We are indebted to Prof. E.B. Cowgill, of Kansas, for a copy of his recent report to the Kansas State Board of Agriculture concerning the operations of the Parkinson Sugar Works, at Fort Scott, Kansas. The report contains an interesting historical sketch of the various efforts heretofore made to produce sugar from sorghum, none of which proved remunerative until 1887, when the persevering efforts of a few energetic individuals, encouraged and assisted by a small pecuniary aid from government, were crowned with success, and gave birth, it may justly be said, to a new industry which seems destined shortly to assume gigantic proportions and increase the wealth of the country.
We make the following abstracts from the report:
The sorghum plant was introduced into the United States in 1853-54, by the Patent Office, which then embraced all there was of the United States Department of Agriculture. Its juice was known to be sweetish, and chemists were not long in discovering that it contained a considerable percentage of some substance giving the reactions of cane sugar. The opinion that the reactions were due to cane sugar received repeated confirmations in the formation of true cane sugar crystals in sirups made from sorghum. Yet the small amounts that were crystallized, compared with the amounts present in the juices as shown by the analyses, led many to believe that the reactions were largely due to some other substance than cane sugar.
During the years 1878 to 1882, inclusive, while Dr. Peter Collier was chief chemist of the Department of Agriculture, much attention was given to the study of sorghum juices from canes cultivated in the gardens of the department at Washington. Dr. Collier became an enthusiastic believer in the future greatness of sorghum as a sugar producing plant, and the extensive series of analyses published by him attracted much attention.
As a result large sugar factories were erected and provided with costly appliances. Hon. John Bennyworth erected one of these at Larned, in Kansas. S.A. Liebold & Co. subsequently erected one at Great Bend.
Sterling and Hutchinson followed with factories which made considerable amounts of merchantable sugar at no profit.
The factory at Sterling was erected by R.M. Sandy & Co., of New Orleans, and while the sirup produced paid the expenses of the factory, not a crystal of sugar was made. The factory then, in 1883, changed hands, and passed under the superintendency of Prof. M.A. Scovell, then of Champaign, Illinois, who, with Prof. Webber, had worked out, in the laboratories of the Illinois Industrial University, a practical method for obtaining sugar from sorghum in quantities which at prices then prevalent would pay a profit on the business. But prices declined, and after making sugar for two years in succession, the Sterling factory succumbed.
The Hutchinson factory at first made no sugar, but subsequently passed under the management of Prof. M. Swenson, who had successfully made sugar in the laboratory of the University of Wisconsin. Large amounts of sugar were made at a loss, and the Hutchinson factory closed its doors. In 1884, Hon. W.L. Parkinson fitted up a complete sugar factory at Ottawa, and for two years made sugar at a loss. Mr. Parkinson was assisted during the first year by Dr. Wilcox, and during the second year by Prof. Swenson.
Much valuable information was developed by the experience in those several factories, but the most important of all was the fact that, with the best crushers, the average extraction did not exceed half of the sugar contained in the cane. It was known to scientists and well informed sugar makers in this country that the process of diffusion was theoretically efficient for the extraction of sugar from plant cells, and that it had been successfully applied by the beet sugar makers of Europe for this purpose.
In 1883, Prof. H.W. Wiley, chief chemist of the Department of Agriculture, made an exhaustive series of practical experiments in the laboratories of the department on the extraction of the sugars from sorghum by the diffusion process, by which the extraction of at least 85 per cent. of the total sugars present was secured.
The Kansas delegation in Congress became interested. Senator Plumb made a thorough study of the entire subject, and, with the foresight of statesmanship, gave his energies to the work of securing an appropriation of $50,000 for the development of the sugar industry, which was granted in 1884, and fifty thousand dollars more was added in 1885 to the agricultural appropriation bill. This was expended at Ottawa, Kansas, and in Louisiana.
In that year Judge Parkinson, at Fort Scott, organized the Parkinson Sugar Company. Taking up the work when all others had failed, this company has taken a full share of the responsibilities and losses, until it has at last seen the Northern sugar industry made a financial success.
The report of 1895 showed such favorable results that in 1886 the House made an appropriation of $90,000, to be used in Louisiana, New Jersey, and Kansas. A new battery and complete carbonatation apparatus were erected at Fort Scott. About $60,000 of the appropriation was expended here in experiments in diffusion and carbonatation.
Last year (1887) the Fort Scott management made careful selection of essential parts of the processes already used, omitted non-essential and cumbrous processes, availed themselves of all the experience of the past in this country, and secured a fresh infusion of experience from the beet sugar factories of Germany, and attained the success which finally places sorghum sugar making among the profitable industries of the country.
The success has been due, first, to the almost complete extraction of the sugars from the cane by the diffusion process; second, the prompt and proper treatment of the juice in defecating and evaporating; third, the efficient manner in which the sugar was boiled to grain in the strike pan.