Back to top

American Crystal Sugar Factory, Chaska

  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
Black and white photograph of an exterior view of the American Crystal Sugar factory in Chaska. Date and photographer unknown.

Exterior view of the American Crystal Sugar factory in Chaska. Date and photographer unknown.

The city of Chaska is home to a factory that has survived decades of change in the Minnesota sugar industry. Since 1934 it has been part of the American Crystal Sugar Company, one of the leading sugar producers in the United States.

In 1898, Minnesota’s first sugar-beet factory opened in St. Louis Park. In 1905, that factory burned to the ground. This loss, however, benefited Chaska. In September of that year it was announced that Chaska had been chosen as the location of the new Carver County Sugar Company. Newspapers reported that if the company invested $750,000 in its sugar-beet factory, over half of that amount would be paid out to farmers for harvesting beets. The employee payroll, they estimated, would be over $25,000.

Construction on the factory and the railroad tracks associated with it began in November of 1905. The factory opened on October 18, 1906. The main building, made out of Chaska brick, was four stories tall. The adjacent warehouse was three stories. There were also smokestacks, a boiler house, and beet sheds capable of holding fifteen thousand tons of beets. All buildings were of brick construction, steel framed, and fireproof. The factory employed 150 workers who worked twelve-hour shifts. After the beets were processed, the pulp was sold as feed for livestock.

In 1911, the company’s name was changed to the Minnesota Sugar Company. In 1912, a local firm was contracted to harvest three thousand acres of sugar beets, bringing the total area harvested to eight thousand acres. A boarding house for seasonal workers was also built. The house included eight separate apartments with Pullman sleepers, a large dining area, a washroom, and a lounge area.

In the spring of 1913, the University of Minnesota General Agricultural College began working on experiments at the factory. Their goal was to find the best climate, the most fertile soil, and the most adaptable sugar beet varieties.

By 1915, the factory employed 250 men. It produced over 125,000 bags of crystallized sugar that year as well as sixty thousand pounds of dry beet pulp and two thousand tons of molasses. Lime for fertilizing was also produced. Despite the short processing season in 1915 (only eighty-five days compared to the typical 120), the factory paid out over $60,000 in labor and field help.

In 1924, a company called American Beet bought the Minnesota Sugar Company and its plants, including the Chaska factory. During the Depression, however, American Beet’s fortunes changed. In 1931, the average price of sugar dropped from seven cents per pound to one half-cent per pound. The Sugar Act of 1934 was enacted in response to these problems. It imposed protective tariffs and quotas. Sugar began being rationed during World War II. Additionally, employees began unionizing.

Despite the troubles, the Chaska factory continued to run. American Beet became the American Crystal Sugar Company in 1934. In 1939, more railroad tracks were laid and updated equipment was added. That same year, a large neon sign was installed advertising the company’s new name.

A shortage of labor arose during the 1940s. In earlier years, the company had employed local youth, German families from the Twin Cities, and Mexican migrants as laborers. By the 1940s, most of its field workers were Mexican migrants.

In 1941, many of these workers protested the country’s sugar policy—an effort to increase sugar cane imports from Cuba while reducing domestic sugar beet acreage. In 1944, disaster struck the warehouse. When approximately 1,500 one-hundred-pound bags of sugar were stacked against a thirteen-inch wall, the weight and pressure proved too much. The wall collapsed, destroying the sugar.

In 1957, American Crystal sold seventeen acres of land to the M. A. Gedney Company. On Easter Sunday of 1958, sleet and wind knocked down a power line during a storm, causing the motors in the warehouse fans to overheat and burn. The fireproof construction of the building helped contain the fire to a 60-by-225-foot area. The next year, the factory suffered another fire when two pulp stacks went up in flames.

In 1971, the Chaska factory ceased production. The main reason was a failure to meet pollution control standards. In February of 1974, the smokestacks were torn down, beginning the dismantling of the factory. In the 2010s, American Crystal uses the site as a storage and distribution center.

  • Cite
  • Share
  • Correct
  • Print
© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

“American Crystal Sugar Disposes of 17 Acre Tract to MPLS Firm.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, July 4, 1957.

“Carver County’s Mammoth Sugar Factory Starts Its Run This Monday.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, October 18, 1906.

“Chaska the Sugar Center.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, October 5, 1905.

“Downed Power Line Blamed, 100,000 Sacks May be Ruined.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, April 10, 1958.

“Fire Strikes Two Pulp Stacks at American Crystal Plant.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, November 20, 1958.

“Grading Has Been Finished.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, November 23, 1905.

“Interior View of the Minnesota Sugar Factory.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, Section 4, December 16, 1915.

“Landmark Falls.” Chaska Herald, February 21, 1974.

“Over $500,000 For Beet Crop: Final Payment Totals $22,000; New Contracts Will Soon Be Released.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, November 4, 1937.

“Pulp is Excellent Feed.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, December 6, 1906.

“Sugar Beet Factory, Carver County Must Take Interest in the Sugar Beet Culture.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, April 21, 1898.

“Sugar Factory a Busy Place.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, August 29, 1912.

“Sugar Factory is a Reality.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, September 7, 1905.

“Sugar Factory is Running.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, October 17, 1907.

“Sugar Factory Up in Flames.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, May 1, 1904.

“Sugar Firm Will Close Chaska Plant.” Waconia Patriot, February 4, 1971.

“Sugar Policy is Protested.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, February 20, 1941.

“The Large New Sign of the American Sugar Co. Mounted Above the Local Factory.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, October 12, 1939.

“University to Help Sugar Beet Raising.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, May 15, 1913.

“Wall Collapse Leaves Big Gap in Warehouse at Sugar Plant.” Chaska Weekly Valley Herald, March 9, 1944.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of an exterior view of the American Crystal Sugar factory in Chaska. Date and photographer unknown.
Black and white photograph of an exterior view of the American Crystal Sugar factory in Chaska. Date and photographer unknown.
Black and white photograph of workers hoeing sugar beets in a field in Carver County. Date and photographer unknown.
Black and white photograph of workers hoeing sugar beets in a field in Carver County. Date and photographer unknown.
Black and white photograph of sacks of sugar produced by the American Crystal Sugar Company sit in a storage warehouse. Photographed by Norton & Peel on November 30, 1949
Black and white photograph of sacks of sugar produced by the American Crystal Sugar Company sit in a storage warehouse. Photographed by Norton & Peel on November 30, 1949
Black and white aerial view of the American Crystal Sugar factory in Chaska. Photographed by Vincent H. Mart in 1969.
Black and white aerial view of the American Crystal Sugar factory in Chaska. Photographed by Vincent H. Mart in 1969.

Turning Point

In 1905, Chaska is chosen as the site of a major sugar-beet factory. After its construction, the factory employs hundreds of local and migrant workers and provides extra income for local farmers.

Chronology

1898

A sugar-beet factory opens in St. Louis Park. Interest in sugar-beet production in Chaska increases.

1905

The St. Louis Park factory burns to the ground on May 4. On September 7, Chaska is chosen as the site for a new plant.

1905

In November, railroad tracks are laid and construction on the factory begins.

1906

Carver County Sugar Company’s factory opens on October 18.

1911

Carver County Sugar Company becomes Minnesota Sugar Company.

1912

Factory remodeling begins in August. The work produces updated machinery, new containers, and boarding houses for seasonal laborers.

1913

In May, the University of Minnesota Agricultural College begins working with the factory. It experiments to find the best soil, climate, and growing conditions, as well as the best variety of beets.

1924

American Beet buys Minnesota Sugar and its plants, including the Chaska factory.

1934

American Beet changes its name to the American Crystal Sugar Company.

1935

Fire destroys the Chaska factory’s pulp warehouse.

1941

Workers protest American Crystal’s sugar policy in February.

1944

In March, the western wall of the Chaska warehouse collapses after too much weight is stacked against it.

1957

In July, American Crystal sells seventeen acres of land to the M. A. Gedney Company of Minneapolis.

1958

An Easter Sunday fire caused by a downed power line destroys part of the Chaska warehouse.

1971

In February, American Crystal announces that the Chaska plant will cease production at the end of the processing season.