No sooner had Saginaw’s lumber tycoon, Wellington R. Burt, celebrated his 70th birthday on August 26, 1901 than did he set out to employ a portion of his lumber wealth in the awakening beet sugar industry.
The mantra of real estate agents everywhere is “location, location, location.” However, in the business world in general it should be, “timing, timing, timing.” Wellington Burt’s timing so far as his interest in sugar was concerned, was poor.
Like others who had filled their days in the once fast-paced but now moribund lumber industry, he had time on his hands and money in the bank. At first, also as had others, he devoted some years to politics. He had served a term in the state senate (1893-1894) then sought a U.S. Congressional seat but had the ill fortune to run as a Democrat in 1900, the year the Republican star was rising. Ranked as one of America’s wealthiest men, Burt cast about for new investment ideas and then homed in on the sugar industry. His set his eyes on Owosso, Michigan, a village situated some thirty miles southwest of Saginaw where several holdovers from the lumber industry resided in mansions arrayed along Washington Avenue. Among Owosso’s many attributes was the influence of Joseph Kohn, a sugarbeet technologist residing in Bay City, Michigan. Kohn presided over the Michigan Chemical Company which had been put in place to purchase and then process molasses generated by that city’s growing number of sugar beet factories. His success at Michigan Chemical encouraged investors to draw close when he spoke of investing in beet sugar factories.
For Kohn it was simple, the more sugar beet factories the more molasses for Michigan Chemical, which could be distilled into alcohol, a circumstance that built enthusiasm for the construction of another factory. Fat with profits, Michigan Chemical and its parent, Pittsburgh Plate Glass, sought to build a factory in Owosso on its own and didn’t need the interference of another millionaire with time on his hands and money in his pocket. Wellington R. Burt was not invited to join in a venture with Michigan Chemical and his ambitions to go on his own languished behind a curtain of international events pittsburgh seo company
The United States had agreed upon the conclusion of the Spanish-American War to reduce the import duty on Philippine sugar 75 percent of the general rate and to allow the importation of sugar from Puerto Rico, a U.S. possession, entirely free of duty. The Philippines had the additional advantage of shipping up to 300,000 tons duty free and Congress was dithering with proposed legislation that if passed, would approve a treaty of reciprocity with Cuba. The agreement would grant that country a 20 percent tariff preferential.
The nation’s newspapers devoted considerable space to the plan, dampening the spirits of those who had at first shown much excitement about Burt’s proposed factory. He could find few others to join him in a venture in Owosso, although he pledged $200,000 of his personal fortune and claimed others had subscribed another $50,000 in stock. He had convinced farmers to sign up to grow sugarbeets on three thousand acres and contracted with the experienced firm of Fuehrman and Hapke to begin construction when it fell apart because investors had not come forth with the balance of the required investment – about $600,000.