It takes something like one thousand men to run this plantation, and his army of employees all told is greater than that of Xenophon when he made his famous retreat.
The Los Angeles Times,
November 29, 1896, p.13:
The Land of Sugar.A VISIT TO LOUISIANA'S BIGGEST PLANTATION
AND ITS IMMENSE SUGAR REFINERY.
The Story of Leon Godchaux, the Sugar King, Who Began Life as a Peddler, and Who Now Can Count His Wealth by the Millons--
All About How Sugar Cane is Grown,
Cut and Ground and Prepared for Our Tables.
Rivers of Sweetness, Oceans of Syrup and Taffy for Millions--
Where Molasses Sells at One Cent a Gallon
and Sugar at Four Cents a Pound--
The Changes Being Made in Sugar-Making and the Prospects for the Future.
(From Our Own Correspondent.)
GODCHAUX PLANTATION, RACELAND (La.,) Nov. 25.-- I write this letter on the biggest sugar plantation of the South. Surrounding me are miles of sugar cane. I can stand in the fields and see nothing but sugar, sugar, sugar, as far as my eyes can reach.
I am on the chief sugar plantation of Leon Godchaux, and Godchaux is the sugar king of the South. He has more sugar land than any other man in Louisiana. He owns 2700 acres here, and he has eleven other big plantations, aggregating in all more than thirty thousand acres, of which fully 10,000 acres are now in cane.
Grocery ad from the Jan 17, 1897 LA Times
Leon Godchaux lives in New Oreleans. He is now worth many millions of dollars. He came to Louisiana when he was a boy of 17, with a peddler's pack upon his back, and he sold good on which many of the rich plantations which he now owns.
This was in the days before the war, when the planters had their negroes and money was squandered like water. The madams and misses bought of the French peddler, never dreaming that the day would come when he would buy them out.
It did come, however. He saved his money, made good investments, finally established a big dry-goods store in New Orleans, and he now has the largest establishment of this kind south of Mason and Dixon's line.
He has interests of many kinds. He owns stocks, bonds, and has gold galore. His income from sugar alone has in the past been enormous. During a single year he received, I am told, more than $500,000 from the government in bounties alone; and in the year of 1894-5, last year, he produced more than 27,000,000 pounds of white sugar and turned out enough molasses, I venture, to float an ocean steamer.
Today Mr. Godchaux is a man of over 70, but he shows the same care in his business that he did when he was a peddler, and his plantations are as well managed as any in the world.
They have the most costly machinery. There are twelve miles of railroad upon this plantation where I am writing, and a little steam engine hauls the cane from the fields to the great refinery, which squeezes out the juice and turns it into sugar.
Mr. Godchaux has refineries connected with nearly all of his plantations, and, as his son told me, he can make his product as cheaply as any one in the world.
LOUISIANA SUGAR FARMS.
Louisiana could easily supply the sugar for the United States. It has vast areas of sugar land which are not yet tilled. I rode through half a dozen plantations in coming here from New Orleans, and I am told that the plantations extend for hundreds of miles to the westward.
It is hard without seeing it to appreciate the beauties of a big field of sugar cane. The stalks are of the greenest green. They grow ten feet and upward in height, and as you look at them from the car windows, they are a solid mass of green.
You may have seen fields of Indian corn. A sugar plantation is not unlike them, save that the crop is greener and more luxuriant. You ride for a long distance through fields of this kind, the car track being walled, as it were, with green save where here and there wide roads cut their way through the fields. Now and then you see the smoke of a great sugar factory streaming out against the blue sky, and between the plantations you pass woods loaded down with Spanish moss.
Some of the forests carry such masses of this moss that the trees have died from the weight. The moss hangs from the branches, it wraps itself about the limbs, it covers the trunks, and clothes the dead trees, as it were, in shrouds of oxidized silver.
THE COST OF A SUGAR PLANTATION.
It was from a forest like this that Leon Godchaux made hs big sugar plantation. The trees were hundreds of years old, and they stood in a swamp. He bought the land for a song, but it cost him, I am told, something like $27 an acre to clear it. He had first to get off the trees, and then to drain the land by running great canals through it.
Some of these canals are thirty feet wide and almost a river of water passes through them. The canals have high banks to keep back the water during the tropical rains.
After draining, the stumps were blown out with dynamite, and then the land was plowed and redrained.
HOW SUGAR CANE IS RAISED.
It takes a great deal of work to produce a spoonful of sugar. I had this forced upon me during my trip over the plantation. An intelligent creole was sent with me, and we drove behind one of Mr. Godchaux's fast horses. We rode for miles between fields of cane which was ready for cutting, and stopped for a time where the land was being planted for next year's crop.
Sugar cane is not grown from seed, the stalks themselves are planted, and out of every joint of the cane sprouts up a new stalk.
The land must first be carefully plowed, and great furrows are run at a distance of seven feet apart from one side of the field to the other. Then stalks of fresh sugar cane with their tops cut off are laid horizontally three side by side in the furrows, the pieces overlapping each other until each furrow has, as it were, three long pipes of cane running from one end of it to the other. Then the soil is thrown over these pipes with the plow.
This is done in the fall. In the spring all but one inch of the earth is scraped off, and under the warm sun the little green sprouts shoot out of the ground, making long ribbons of green, as it were, against the black field. They grow rapidly, and from time to time dirt is thrown up to them.
By August, the plants are six feet in height. They grow on until the middle of October, when they are ready to be cut and taken to the refinery for the making of sugar.
Sometimes the cane is planted in the spring, but the method of growing it is much the same, the new cane in all cases sprouting from the knots of the old.
It takes an army of laborers to raise sugar cane, and harvesting it entails so much work that all the negroes from miles about are called into the service of the planters.
GANGS OF CANE CUTTERS.
During my stay here hundreds of men have have been cutting cane. They work in gangs under overseers. From thirty to forty men and women are in each gang. Each hand carries a great flat knife, about as long as a butcher's cleaver. It has a hook on the end and a saw on the back.
The cane as it stands in the field is from eight to fifteen feet high. The pieces which are carried to the sugar mill are not more than five feet in length. The stalks must be trimmed of their leaves. They must be cut off at the top, and must be chopped off close to the ground, as the best of the sugar water is found in the lower part of the stalk.
It is wonderful how quick the cutters do their work. As they stand in the fields they face what seems to be a solid wall of cane, and they chop their way, as it were, right through this wall.
You see their knives flashing. Every blow counts, and they throw the stalks into piles, or rather windrows, of cane clubs.
As they work the overseer watches them, and a timekeeper goes along beside them and sees that every man and woman is at work.
The wages are very low. They get from 60 cents to $1 a day, according to their skill, and are boarded on the plantation. They sleep in cabins, a number of them lying on the floor and getting their rest as best they can.
The hours are from daylight until dark, and there are few stops. At the same time that the cane is cut, great carts, drawn by three mules, are driven into the field. Another gang of laborers throw the cane into them, and it is carried off to the railroad track, which runs through all parts of the plantation.
Here the cane is hoisted into the cars by means of a pulley, a whole cart load being put into the cars at one time. When a train load is ready, the engine carries it to the refinery and it is turned into sugar.
WHERE WE GET OUR SUGAR.
I spent some time watching the processes of making sugar from cane. Nearly all the sugar in the United States comes from cane, and about half the sugar used in the world is of this nature. Within the past few years a vast amount of sugar has been manufactured out of beets in different parts of the United States.
The most of our sugar, however, until lately came from cane. The product now amounts to almost 3,000,000 tons a year, and of this fully 250,000 tons are produced in the United States.
In 1894 the product of our cane sugar amounted to more than 600,000,000 pounds, and we imported in that year almost 4,000,000,000 of cane sugar additional. We paid in 1894 $111,000,000 for the sugar we imported, and there is no doubt that, with the improved methods for making sugar here, all of this sugar could be raised in Louisiana and Texas.
Formerly the United States paid bounty to the sugar producers. Since these have been cut off the business has dropped, and at present, I am told, there is no money in sugar-making. With a new bounty and a moderate tariff our sugar industry would boom, and this section of the United States would rapidly develop.
It takes an enormous amount to manage one of these sugar houses. The refinery here cost, I am told, about $350,000. It covers acres, and its machinery is of the most expensive kind.
At present it is making sugar which sells for between 3 and 4 cents a pound, and this, Mr. Godchaux's son, the manager, tells me does not pay the cost of running the mills.
And still not a cent is wasted. Everything is done on the largest scale. There are no stops, the cane goes into the mill looking like corn stalks, and it comes out sugar and molassses.
EIGHT HUNDRED TONS A DAY.
This refinery eats up 800 tons of cane a day, and each ton produces 150 pounds of sugar. Think of that! Out of this mill comes every day 120,000 pounds of the sweetening which is used on our table. A pound of table sugar a day is a good allowance for the ordinary family. This factory grinds out enough daily to keep 120,000 families going, or more than enough for the table use of any one of our cities except the largest ones.
The cane is not touched after it leaves the car. It is thrown on to a movable belt or movable roadway, which carries it up to the top of the mill and drops it between great iron rollers which have teeth like a round file.
These roller are about as big around as a hogshead and almost seven feet long. They are very heavy. They are so arranged that an enormous weight is added to them by hydraulic pressure, and as the cane is drawn through them by means of the teeth catching the fibers, this great weight presses the juice out of it and it comes out almost dry.
It is now sprinkled by means of machinery, and carried on to go through a second pair of rollers quite as heavy as the first.
Now the pith which is left contains as little water as last year's corn stalk. It is carried on from the rollers upon another elevated railway and emptied into the enormous furnaces which run the machinery of the mill.
When the stalks of cane left the cars they were very heavy. They were as full of juice as a half-soaked sponge is of water. They come out as dry as tinder, and you could light them with a match.
RAIN OF SWEET WATER.
Come with me below the great roller presses and see where the juice goes to. You see it pouring down in torrents from the lower parts of the rollers. It falls in the shape of a sweet rain into a trough about a foot wide, and this flows in a steady stream both day and night, as long as the mill is running.
Put your finger in this water and take a taste of the liquid as it comes from the cane. The fluid is of a greenish yellow. It looks dirty. It reminds you of dishwater, and the taste is almost sickening. Still, out of that sweet dirty dishwater the pure white sugar must come.
The water, however, must first be clarified. Every bit of dirt must be taken out of it. It must be bleached until it is as clear as crystal before it is ready for boiling down into sugar.
HOW SYRUP IS MADE.
It is first run into great iron tanks, each holding 2,000 gallons, and each having pipes running through them. These pipes admit a gas made of sulphur, which is blown about through the water. The gas makes the juice bubble, and a yellow foam almost like soap suds stands on its top. Lime is also put in, in order to settle the dirt on the same principle as it is used in clarifying water, and at the same time the scum is skimmed off.
After this the water, having passed through several tanks, has become clearer and clearer, and now is ready for boiling.
This is done in great kettles or vats of copper. These have steam coils in them, and the sweet fluid is soon raised to a boiling point. As it seethes, a scum rises to the top. This is brushed off by men with great wooden ladles. It flows from one tank to another, growing clearer and clearer and thicker and thicker. Taste it now! It is the purest of syrup, and its color has beome a light yellow.
TAFFY FOR MILLIONS.
Look at the syrup as it seethes in the tank! What an enormous amount there is of it! Follow it in those pipes which carry it to the floor above, and look at the enormous vats which are filled with the sweet fluid.
There is enough syrup here to give a whole state a taffy pulling. There is one big barrel which contains 40,000 pounds, and in which the syrup is boiling and seething in the process of being turned into sugar.
Come on to that vat and see the half-granulated molasses which fills it. What a fine swimming tank it would make. It is forty feet long, and so deep that if you fell in you would be drowned in the sweet fluid.
Take up a spoonful or the mixture. It is now a sort of mush of sugar and molasses, and it only needs the drying machines to take out the sugar. These separate the molasses from the sugar, and if you will walk on into that room over there, you may see the pure white grain falling down from the ceiling in an almost endless stream.
You may see, also, two men shoveling back the sugar in order that it may be evenly spread over the room. Their sleeves are rolled up, and their legs are bare to the knee. They stand with their bare feet covered by the warm white sugar, and shovel it about as though it were sand.
From here the sugar is barreled up ready for shipment, going almost directly from the factory to the great wholesale houses by which it is distributed over the country.
MOLASSES ONE CENT A GALLON.
In the above I have used the word molasses in some places where I should have said syrup. There is a great difference between molasses and syrup.
Syrup is made from the fine juice of the cane. Molasses is the refuse from the making of sugar. It contains the poorest parts of the juice. It is not free from the dirt, and it is only allowed to remain in the state of molasses when no more sugar can possibly be squeezed from it.
There are in this refinery hot rooms filled with great jars of molasses which are left for weeks in order that they may granulate into sugar. What remains after all the sugar possible has been taken out is sold for 1 cent and upward a gallon.
Cheap, isn't it? One cent a gallon for molasses. It is sold so cheaply, in fact, that it does not pay to put it in barrels, for the barrels would be worth more than the [molasses] it contains, so it is carried from one part of the country to another in tank cars, like coal oil, and is bought largely in bulk.
There are, of course, different grades of molasses, and I am told that much New Orleans molasses is made direct from the cane, and, of course, brings much higher prices than the refuse of the sugar refinery.
CHANGES IN SUGAR MAKING.
A great change, however, is going on in sugar-making throughout the whole section. The sugar kings of the days before the war have disappeared. The old sugar mill which used to run by horse power is a thing of the past, and the sugar of today is produced after as careful business methods as those of making iron and steel.
A great many men from the West, East and Middle States have succeeded to the ownership of the sugar plantations! A number of the estates have been brought up by corporations, and the great sugar landlords grow less in number every year.
In 1890 there were 1274 sugar producers. I am told that there are now less than five hundred, and, like all great businesses, the sugar seems to be going into the form of a trust.
This is not so much in regard to sugar planters as to sugar-makers. The big refineries all buy cane, and the small planter of the future will sell his cane to the refineries. A large part of the Godchaux cane is purchased of small planters, and the managers of the refinery here told me that the planters were getting all the money out of the business.
Now that McKinley is elected, there will probably be a movement organized to put a bounty on sugar. If this is done, the business will boom, and prosperity will come to Louisiana and other sections where sugar is raised.
FRANK G. CARPENTER.