One of the men destined to join the ranks of Michigan's pioneer sugar barons was John C. Liken. He was nearly 70 years old when the idea struck him and already rich beyond the dreams he probably had when he carved barrel staves for a living as an indigent immigrant in New York more than fifty years earlier. By 1900, he operated a big business in a small town that referred to him as the town father because his enterprise created the jobs that brought people to the town.
His annual sales during the years preceding 1900, in modern terms, equated to about $7.5 million. In a combination of enterprises that employed two hundred people, he operated four saw mills primarily engaged in manufacturing barrel staves, many of which he shipped to Germany, two flour mills, a major retail outlet for hardware, dry goods, groceries, and drugs which in 1884 employed nine clerks.
Boutell’s crowd, said the low bid made no difference, they would accept none other than the one submitted by Kilby. To the Saginaw group, this was tantamount to drawing a line in the sand. They believed firmly in awarding the contract to the lowest bidder. Accordingly, the Sebewaing-Saginaw representatives who controlled three of the officer positions, ignoring the fact that Boutell and his friends controlled 45 percent of the company and that a member of their faction just secured the presidency, gave the nod to Fuehrman & Hapke. Boutell and company recoiling from the suggestion that anyone except Kilby would build a factory in which they had invested, cancelled their stock subscriptions, resigned their positions and withdrew from the board of directors.
The sudden withdrawal of Bay City investors necessitated a second election. The presidency went to Thomas Harvey. John Liken’s son-in-law, Christian Bach, retained the vice-president’s post and a seat at the director’s table. Liken’s son, Charles, accepted an appointment as treasurer but did not win a board seat. William F. Schmitt, a minor stockholder and Christian Bach’s sister Emma’s suitor, became secretary. In time and after having been tested by fire, he would prove that his advancement was owed entirely to his skill, not to his relationship to the Bach family. In 1906, he took charge of the Sebewaing factory which he then guided for six years before leaving the company for a senior position with Continental Sugar Company. Directors, in addition to Harvey and Christian Bach, included William H. Wallace, Watts Humphrey, George Morley, James MacPherson, who replaced Benjamin Boutell, and Richard Martini.
The cornerstone was laid on October 21, 1901 but the absence of qualified engineers delayed construction. Experienced construction engineers had become a premium in a nation that suddenly could not have enough beet sugar factories. Twenty-five beet sugar factories were constructed between 1900 and 1905 of which ten were in Michigan. Adding to the difficulties was Fuehrman’s absence. He had departed for Dresden, Ontario to construct a similar factory for Captain James Davidson, a Bay City magnate who had decided to dedicate a portion of his wealth to the beet industry.
Much as Caro served as a training ground for factory operators, Sebewaing acted as a school for factory managers who were sent throughout America to beet and cane factories owned by American Sugar Refining Company and others. Hugo Peters moved on to Dresden to oversee James Davidson’s operation and then took similar positions in Idaho, Utah, California and even the West Indies. In 1920, Peters turned his attention to spectro-photometric analysis for the US Bureau of Standards, making serious contributions to color analysis. Jim Dooley stayed on as manager at Sebewaing for a few years then headed operations for all of Michigan Sugar Company when it came into existence in 1906. Wilfred Van Duker, Sebewaing’s first chief chemist, dedicated the larger portion of his career to improving cane milling in Hawaii. There, he eventually managed four sugar estates. Richard Henry Martini became General Agricultural Superintendent for Michigan Sugar Company and Henry Pety moved on to Utah for a superintendency before returning to Michigan to manage the Mount Pleasant factory. The Sebewaing factory continued to expand by adding physical structures and equipment in the form of diffusion towers, automated affairs that replaced the older battery operations, evaporators, modern centrifugals, storage bins and other equipment that caused the daily beet slicing capacity to gradually expand from 600 tons per day to more than 5,000 tons per day.
Estimated profits for the first year of operation: Records did not survive. The author determined an estimated profit by applying an estimated selling price of $5.12 for each one hundred pounds to the total hundredweight available for sale and then deducted costs estimated at$3.57 per one hundred pounds.
GUTTLEBEN, Daniel, The Sugar Tramp – 1954 p. 182 concerning purchase of sugar factories by the Sugar Trust, p. 177 concerning organization of Sebewaing Sugar and operating results, printed by Bay Cities Duplicating Company, San Francisco, California
MICHIGAN ANNUAL REPORTS, Michigan Archives, Lansing, Michigan:
Sebewaing Sugar 1903, 1904
Sebewaing Lumber, 1901, 1904
Bay Port Fish, 1901
Saginaw Courier Herald, July 11, 1901 – reporting on the meeting of stockholders of the newly formed Sebewaing Sugar Company.
Portrait and biographical album of Huron County:
John C. Liken, Christian F. Bach, Richard Martini
U.S. Census reports for Sebewaing, 1900, 1910
Copyright, 2009, Thomas Mahar, All Rights Reserved
About the Author: Thomas Mahar served as Executive Vice President of Monitor Sugar Company between 1984 and 1999 and as President of Gala Food Processing, a sugar packaging company, from 1993-1998. He retired in 1999 and now devotes his free time to writing about the history of the sugar industry. He authored, Sweet Energy, The Story of Monitor Sugar Company in 2001, and Michigan's Beet Sugar History (Newsbeet, Fall, 2006).Contact: Thomas Mahar E-mail email@example.com