The History of Imperial Sugar dates back to 1843 in an area of southeast Texas now known as the City of Sugar Land. Cane sugar has always been able to grow abundantly in the low lying wetlands of this area. Since then the city that grew up around the refinery became Sugar Land. (Sugar Land is a Houston suburb.) The company maintains its headquarters at the original location, although there are now several regional headquarters and refineries around the country, including California, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas.
Succession of Names and Owners
The Williams brothers: Samuel, Nathaniel, and Matthew, founded the company. They built a sugar refinery on their Oakland Plantation and originally named it the Oakland Plantation Sugar Refinery.
Benjamin F. Terry and William J. Kyle bought the company in 1852. They renamed it the Sugar Land Sugar Refinery.
E. H. Cunningham acquired the business after the Civil War. He renamed it the Cunningham Sugar Refinery.
The Imperial Sugar Company name finally emerged in 1907 when the company was purchased by W. T. Eldridge and I. H. Kempner.
In 1988, the company merged with the Holly Sugar Corporation to form Imperial Holly Corporation.
The company changed its name back to Imperial Sugar Company in 1999.
Louis Dreyfus Group of the Netherlands bought Imperial in 2012.
History of Forced Labor
The company used slave labor at first. The Williams brothers owned a sugar plantation in what is now Sugar Land, Texas. The plantation used slave labor to grow and harvest sugar cane, and the sugar refinery that the company built on the plantation also used slave labor.
After the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the company began using convict labor. This was legal under the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery but allowed for “involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime…” The company leased convicts from the state of Texas to work in its sugar refinery and on its sugar cane plantations.
Imperial Sugar continued to use convict labor until 1910, when the practice was outlawed by the Texas legislature.
In 1907, when Imperial went to W. T. Eldridge and I. H. Kempner, the new owners opposed the use of convict labor. They began to transition the company to free labor, and by the early 1920s, the company had no more convict laborers.
However, the company’s history with slave and convict labor remained a source of controversy in recent years. In 2012, the the descendants of slaves who had worked on its plantations sued the company. The lawsuit alleged that the company had profited from slavery and had not done enough to acknowledge or compensate the descendants of the slaves. The lawsuit settled in 2015 for $10 million.
Lack of Diversity
The company also received criticism for its lack of diversity. In 2020, the company announced that it would be taking steps to increase diversity in its workforce and leadership.
Imperial Sugar has grown significantly in recent years through a series of acquisitions. In 2001, the company acquired Southern Sugars, a sugar refinery in Louisiana. In 2005, the company acquired the assets of the C&H Sugar Corporation, a sugar refiner in California. By 2012, the company had also acquired Domino Sugar, a sugar refiner in Florida. These acquisitions have given Imperial Sugar a significant presence in the sugar refining industry in the United States.
Imperial Sugar’s growth through acquisitions has not been without controversy. In 2013, the company was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for violating antitrust laws. The lawsuit alleged that Imperial Sugar’s acquisition of Domino Sugar had created a monopoly in the sugar refining market in the southeastern United States. The case settled in 2015, with Imperial Sugar agreeing to sell some of its assets to a competitor.
In 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice again sued Imperial Sugar for violating antitrust laws. The lawsuit alleged that Imperial Sugar’s proposed acquisition of U. S. Sugar would create a monopoly in the sugar refining market in the southeastern United States.
- Year Started: 1843
- Year Ended: 2099
- Origin Of Name: Aspirational / Descriptive
- Location Sales: Worldwide
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: Samuel, Nathaniel, and Matthew Williams
- Owner While In Use: Several
- Owner Successor: Louis Dreyfus Group
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Imperial Sugar
- Naics Code: 311314
- Location Headquarters: Sugar Land, Texas USA