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Western Beet Sugar Company factory, Watsonville, California
Currently on display
Not a part of the official Smithsonian Collection

Beginning life in what we would now call Germany, immigrant entrepreneur Claus Spreckels was a grocer and a brewer before he became a sugar refiner. Spreckels was known as the California Sugar King, but he also owned a cooperage, had vast land holdings in Hawaii, began the Oceanic Steamship Company [which sold out to the Matson Navigation Company in the 1920s] to get his sugar from Hawaii to San Francisco. Spreckels also helped found and fund the San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley Railway, and built the Pajaro Valley Railroad to facilitate his factory's business. In the 1880s, Spreckels began trying to encourage farmers to grow sugar beets, and he built a factory to process domestic sugar beets in Watsonville in the late 1880s. The town of Watsonville, eager for the economic benefits they thought the factory would bring to their region, raised the money to buy the site for the new factory and donated it to the multimillionaire to induce him to put the factory in their town. Although the factory helped insulate the region from the economic depressions of the 1890s, Watsonville's sugar beet era only lasted a decade. In 1898, as the center of sugar beet production moved away from the Pajaro Valley, Spreckels built a new factory just outside of Salinas, shut the Watsonville factory, and the town's sugar beet era was over.

Physical Description
photograph
Details
Date Made:
about 1890
Dates Used:
1888 - 1898
Locations:
California
Note:
Watsonville
History
From the 1860s on, California farms, many of which were large, engaged in forms of agriculture that were industrialized, commercialized, and subject to the vagaries of the markets and seasons. Californian agricultural regions quickly began to grow cash crops like wheat and, by the late 19th century-with the growing numbers of refrigerated railroad cars that increased their ability to transport perishable produce-farmers grew fruits and vegetables for markets near and far.
Related People, Places, and Events
Manufacturer
Claus Spreckels (1908)
Beginning life in what we would now call Germany, immigrant entrepreneur Claus Spreckels was a grocer and a brewer before he became a sugar refiner. Spreckels was known as the California Sugar King, but he also owned a cooperage, had vast land holdings in Hawaii, began the Oceanic Steamship Company [which sold out to the Matson Navigation Company in the 1920s] to get his sugar from Hawaii to San Francisco. Spreckels also helped found and fund the San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley Railway, and built the Pajaro Valley Railroad to facilitate his factory’s business. He was also involved in San Francisco real estate, and utilities companies. He died in 1908, a multi millionaire


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