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Records of the Great Western Sugar Company

Identifier: AGWS

Scope and Contents

The Records of the Great Western Sugar Company consists of documents and photographic materials dated 1893 to 1984, with the bulk falling from 1901 to 1977. Photographic prints, contact sheets, negatives, slides, audio and videotapes and motion picture films produced by company photographers comprise the first six series. Most of the photographs are black-and-white, but there are also a small number of color prints in the collection. Photograph subjects include Great Western employees, factories, farms and farming equipment, growers and laborers.

Series 7 and 8 hold the collection's textual materials. Series 7 contains company publications and information useful for identifying photographic materials in Series 1 through 6. Series 8, the largest series by far, is inventoried but not processed and holds Great Western's financial and administrative records, correspondence, reports, company publications, subject files, newspaper clippings, and other documents.

Digitized materials from this collection are available in CSU's digital repository at this link:Mountain Scholar.


  • Creation: 1893-1984
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1901-1977


Restrictions on Access

Due to the presence of personally identifiable information, access to sub-subseries 8.2.2 and one folder in sub-subseries 8.2.3 is restricted. All restrictions are noted in the inventory. Additionally, the collection is stored off-site, so advance notice is required.

Restrictions on Use

Not all of the material in the collection is in the public domain. Researchers are responsible for addressing copyright issues.


Sugar beets were cultivated in Colorado as early as 1869, and tests conducted by the State Agricultural College in Fort Collins a decade later confirmed that Colorado soil could yield up to 30 tons of sugar beets per acre. The first sugar beet processing factory in Colorado was built in Grand Junction in 1899. By 1906, beet sugar factories had been constructed in Rocky Ford, Loveland, Greeley, Eaton, Fort Collins, Longmont, Windsor, Sterling, Fort Morgan and Brush. Each new factory of the Great Western Sugar Company quickly became the hub of the agricultural community in which it was built.

In 1903, New York businessman Henry O. Havemeyer purchased the Loveland plant, and within a short time bought the sugar factories in Fort Collins, Windsor and Longmont. Two years later, with capital stock worth $20 million, the Havemeyer trust drew up a corporate charter under New Jersey laws. The Great Western Sugar Company was incorporated on February 27, 1905. As head of the American Sugar Refining Company, by the time of his death in 1907 Havemeyer had become a dominant force in the American beet and cane sugar industry. His son, Horace, served as a director at Great Western from 1907 until 1949.

Chester S. Morey, one of the investors who built the Loveland factory in 1901, served as president of the Great Western Sugar Company from 1910 until 1917. Under his direction, sugar beet factories were built or purchased in Scottsbluff, Gering and Bayard, Nebraska; Billings, Montana; Lovell, Wyoming and Brighton, Colorado. With the onset of World War I in Europe, exports of sugar beet seeds to America declined. Great Western research labs, established in Denver in 1913 by W. C. Graham, found methods for producing sufficient seed for company growers. The laboratories later developed techniques for controlling webworm infestation, which destroyed over 180,000 acres of sugar beets in 1918.

In 1917, as the United States became involved in World War I, William L. Petrikin took over the presidency of the Great Western Sugar Company. During his tenure, the company built or acquired processing plants in Fort Lupton, Ovid and Johnstown as well as in the Nebraska communities of Mitchell, Minatare and Lyman.

The Johnstown factory was built in 1926 (under the supervision of Great Western general manager William D. Lippitt) for the purpose of recovering additional products from the thousands of tons of pulp left after the sugar was extracted from the beets. In a process utilizing barium, sugar was recovered from the waste molasses from the other factories. Although this recovered sugar was unsuitable for human consumption, it could be used for cattle feed pellets and fertilizer. Lippitt went on to become president of the Great Western Sugar Company in 1931, but his life was ended by a horse accident three years later.

The next notable president of Great Western would be Frank A. Kemp, a former lawyer. Under his leadership, the company acquired subsidiaries including the Great Western Railway, the Ingleside Limestone Company and the Cache la Poudre Company. Great Western pushed for the construction of reservoirs and supported the Big Thompson Water Diversion Project. Insights gained by company researchers concerning increased yields, pest control methods and innovative equipment were passed on to growers through the company publications, Through the Leaves and Upbeet.

During the early decades of Great Western's history, the beet sugar work force consisted mainly of German-Russian laborers who became farmers. With the outbreak of the second world war, Japanese-Americans, forced from their homes and businesses on the West Coast, made their way to Colorado and Wyoming and provided labor on the beet farms. After the war, this Japanese-American work force was augmented by Mexican migrant workers, known as "braceros."

By the mid 1930s, Colorado was the state with the largest number of beet sugar factories (sixteen) in the United States, and Great Western owned and operated thirteen of them. Although Colorado and California were the top beet sugar producing states from 1935 to 1958, the post-war years saw a gradual decline in the profitability of the Great Western Sugar Company operations.

In 1954, an addition to the Johnstown plant began producing monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer. This boosted profits for a time, but the sagging sugar market soon led Great Western to sell its Ingleside Limestone and Cache la Poudre subsidiaries. Poor management policies and a failure to modernize its sugar processing factories caused additional problems for Great Western.

The Great Western Sugar Company became part of the Great Western United Corporation in 1968. Great Western United diversified its holdings through the purchase of many other companies, including Shakey's Pizza, the California City Development Company and the Colorado Milling and Elevator Company. Falling sugar prices during the 1970s led to the sale of Great Western United in 1977 to the Hunt International Resources Company, owned by the Hunt brothers of Dallas, Texas.

The management of the Great Western Sugar Company moved to Dallas, where Ivan Beelenberg acted as president. In an attempt to increase profitability, Beenlenberg initiated new corporate policies and cut budgets and manpower. In 1978, Great Western entered the cane sugar market with the purchase of the Godchaux-Henderson Sugar Company located in Reserve, Louisiana. Two years later, Great Western closed the Johnstown sugar factory, and in 1982 the Johnstown MSG plant shifted to the production of high fructose corn syrup.

Competition from cane sugar and corn syrup, both less expensive to produce, as well as from artificial sweeteners such as saccharine and aspartame, led to a further decline in beet sugar prices. By the early 1980s, the Ovid, Bayard and Lovell factories were forced to close their doors when local beet growers refused to continue planting sugar beets. The Mountain States Beet Growers Association attempted to purchase six factories from Great Western in 1984, but their bid was too low and the Hunts filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in bankruptcy court.

In 1985, the Great Western Sugar Company was forced to lay off 350 employees. A Colorado and Kansas growers' association purchased the few Colorado factories that were still operational for $67 million. The Holly Sugar Corporation purchased Great Western's operations in Louisiana and Ohio, and the firm of Tate and Lyle bought the remaining Nebraska, Billings and Lovell plants (along with the Great Western logo, trademark and name) and changed the name to Western Sugar. In 2002, Western Sugar became a grower-owned cooperative, with factories in Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado.

Much of the historical information provided above is summarized from "A Brief History of the Great Western Sugar Company," an archival report prepared by Michael Goolsby and Michael McDermott, available in the collection files. More comprehensive historical accounts of the sugar company are found in The Great Western Sugarlands: History of the Great Western Sugar Company by William John May (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Colorado, Boulder, 1982) and The Grand Old Days of Great Western, published by the Great Western Sugar Company in 1960. Other sources of information on Great Western and the sugar beet industry in general include Elvon L. Howe's GW (Great Western Sugar Company, 1955) and The Beet Sugar Story, U.S. Beet Sugar Association, 1959.


341.5 linear feet (159 record cartons, 3 document cases, 8 films, 1 oversize box, ledgers)

Language of Materials



The Great Western Sugar Company, incorporated on February 27, 1905, was the dominant producer of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska beet sugar for over sixty years. Each new factory of the Great Western Sugar Company quickly became the hub of the agricultural community in which it was built. Materials include financial and administrative records, correspondence, reports, company publications, subject files, newspaper clippings, photographic prints, contact sheets, negatives, slides, audio and videotapes, and motion picture films produced by company photographers.


The collection consists of eight series in 159 record cartons, 3 document cases, 1 oversize box, and oversize items:

Series 1: Photographic prints and contact sheets, 1893-1983 and undated

Subseries 1.1: Locations, 1893-1982 and undated

Subseries 1.2: Subjects, 1903-1983 and undated

Subseries 1.3: Company codes, 1921-1981 and undated

Subseries 1.4: Oversize prints, 1901-1976 and undated

Series 2: Negatives, 1971-1976 and undated

Series 3: Photographic slides, 1947-1984 and undated

Series 4: Motion picture films, 1946-1947, 1965, 1970 and undated

Series 5: Audio and videotapes, 1972-1982 and undated

Series 6: Printing plates, 1976 and undated

Series 7: Textual records, 1914-1982 and undated

Subseries 7.1: Subject files, 1914-1978 and undated

Subseries 7.2: Publications, 1919-1978 and undated

Subseries 7.3: Visual materials descriptions, 1927-1982 and undated

Series 8: Records transferred from CU-Boulder Archives, 1897-1983 and undated

Subseries 8.1 CU Accession 1, 1901-1967 and undated

Subseries 8.2: CU Accession 2, 1904-1977 and undated

Sub-subseries 8.2.1: Accession 2, Group 1, 1967-1975 and undated

Sub-subseries 8.2.2: Accession 2, Group 2, 1912-1972 and undated

Sub-subseries 8.2.3: Accession 2, Group 3, 1911-1967 and undated

Sub-subseries 8.2.4: Accession 2, Group 4, 1908-1971 and undated

Sub-subseries 8.2.5: Accession 2, Group 5, 1906-1976 and undated

Sub-subseries 8.2.6: Accession 2, Group 6, 1969-1972 and undated

Sub-subseries 8.2.7: Accession 2, Group 7, 1904-1977 and undated

Subseries 8.3: CU Accession 3, 1897-1983 and undated

Subseries 8.4: CU Accession 4 -- from Fort Morgan, 1906-1979 and undated

Subseries 8.5: CU Oversized materials, 1902-1976

Custodial History

The photographic records and related textual files had previously been stored by Great Western at the company's Mono Hy office in Longmont, Colorado. In March 1990, forty boxes of textual materials pertaining to Great Western operations were transferred from the Colorado Agricultural Archive to the Western Historical Collections of the University of Colorado Libraries. In October 2017, the same forty boxes plus an additional sixty-seven boxes were transferred from the University of Colorado Libraries to the Agricultural and Natural Resources Archive.


The Records of the Great Western Sugar Company was donated to the Colorado Agricultural Archive on March 8, 1988, by Larry D. Steward, Vice President of the Great Western Sugar Company. In 1990, additional Great Western Sugar Company photographic materials were transferred from the Western Historical Collections of the University of Colorado Libraries in Boulder (CU-Boulder) to the Colorado Agricultural Archive. The Colorado Agricultural Archive became part of the Colorado State University Libraries (CSUL), Archives and Special Collections Department in 2004. Another transfer from CU-Boulder to CSUL on October 23, 2017, added approximately 200 linear feet of documents and ledgers to the collection.

Online Materials

Some of the collection's photographs and films as well as textual records in Series 7 and Subseries 8.3 have been digitized and are available through the Colorado State University Libraries website. In the electronic version of this document, links appear in at the series and subseries level.

Related Collections

Additional information concerning the cultivation and harvesting of sugar beets may be found in the Records of the Colorado Cooperative Extension, the Records of the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station and the Papers of Daniel W. Working, all housed in the Agricultural and Natural Resources at Colorado State University.


The collection was received in disorder. Some of the photographs were housed in labeled file folders or envelopes, but many were loose in the boxes. Preliminary inventories were created in 1988 and 1989. Archival students Joe Coca, Peggy Culbert, and Diana Wess sorted the collection in 1991 by material type, then grouped photographic prints in acid-free folders according to location or subject, if the location was unknown. Negatives were housed in acid-free archival sleeves, and nitrate-based negatives were isolated and will be disposed of after prints or digital images are made from them. Additional processing is planned for the slides, audio and videotapes, and 16mm films within this collection. The records received from CU-Boulder in 2017 have been inventoried but not processed.

Guide to the Records of the Great Western Sugar Company
Edited Full Draft
Prepared by Linda M. Meyer; revised 2009; revised 2019 by Clarissa Trapp
Copyright 2010
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the CSU Libraries Archives & Special Collections Repository

Fort Collins Colorado 80523-1019 USA