The Imperial Sugar Company (ISC) has a long and rich heritage. It is one of the oldest continuously operating entities in the State of Texas and a brand that has been trusted families all across the South for generations. ISC is headquartered in Sugar Land, Texas. Sugar Land is named for ISC and our crown logo is featured on the city’s seal. ISC’s corporate headquarters remains in Sugar Land, Texas to this day. Today, we are proud to be a member of the Louis Dreyfus Company portfolio.
In 1843, along the banks of Oyster Creek in what would later become Sugar Land, the Williams brothers built a mule-powered sugar mill, began grinding sugar cane, and a Texas legacy was born. The Imperial Sugar Company is the one of the oldest continuously operating companies in the State of Texas.
In 1905 the Kempner family of Galveston, under the leadership of Isaac H. Kempner and in partnership with William T. Eldridge, purchased the Imperial Mill and formed the Imperial Sugar Company.
The newly founded town of Sugar Land attracted a stable population largely made up of German and Czech immigrants. As craftsmen and sugar experts arrived, the Imperial Sugar refinery was rehabilitated and launched on year-round operations using raw sugar imported through the Port of Galveston. ISC set up a support system for employees including building 500 new homes, providing medical care, and establishing the Imperial State Bank, the Imperial Mercantile Company, a company store, various retail stores, a cotton gin as well as feed and paper mills. ISC also paid for graveled streets with concrete curbs, gutters and sidewalks, a modern hospital and school system, as well as churches. The company furnished electricity, gas, and water to the town.
After 1912, the production of raw sugar in the four-county area began to decline and ISC began to import raw sugar from Cuba in increasing quantities. In 1914, the company’s refining capacity was 525,000 pounds a day. At the end of 1915, and following expansions of the plant, capacity had been increased to 750,000 pounds a day. In 1924 the company was reorganized as a $5 million corporation. In 1925, ground was broken for an immense “Char House” 一 a structure of steel, concrete, and bricks rising to a height of 150 feet and costing $1 million.
By 1932 ISC was the only remaining sugar manufacturer left in Texas. By 1940, however, the company had once again begun to expand. World War II brought the suspension of quotas under the Sugar Act and allowed unlimited imports. Under sugar rationing and other government wartime restrictions, ISC provided all the sugar for Texas and Oklahoma, an arrangement that resulted in the company’s postwar dominance of the market in those states.
In 1946 the Kempner family bought out the remaining Eldridge heirs and became almost 100 percent owners of ISC, the lands around Sugar Land and the numerous corporate enterprises in the Sugar Land area. In 1948, I.H. Kempner’s youngest son, I.H. Kempner Jr., was made president and launched the company on a program of modernization. Soon, ISC was producing sugar on a 24-hour basis.
In the 1950’s ISC opened the Sugar Land Shopping Center to house new executive offices and completed an innovative air-conditioned packing room. ISC’s output exceeded two million pounds of sugar daily. Bulk raw sugar supplies increased when the company sold a significant portion of its stock to the C & H Sugar Refining Company of California and Hawaii in 1956; however, ISC bought the stock back in 1967. The town of Sugar Land incorporated in 1959 and as Houston expanded, ISC redeveloped much of its real estate into subdivisions. Today, most all of the major master planned communities in Sugar Land sit on land that was once fields of sugarcane, cotton, grains and vegetables.
ISC acquired the Holly Sugar Corporation, a company formed from eight beet sugar processing plants, to form the Imperial Holly Corporation, a processor of both cane and beet sugar. With that acquisition, ISC more than doubled in size and became a marketer of both cane and beet sugar. After the merger, 60 percent of the company belonged to the Kempner family, 10 percent to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, and 30 percent to public stockholders.
In 1996 ISC acquired Spreckels Sugar Company of California, a West Coast beet sugar company. In 1997, ISC acquired Savannah Foods & Industries, Inc., headquartered in Savannah, Georgia, which at the time was the second largest sugar refiner in the industry. Savannah Foods & Industries marketed its sugar under the Dixie Crystals® brand. Another legacy company, Savannah Foods was founded in 1915 by Benjamin Alexander Oxnard and Richard H. Sprague when they moved their entire sugar refining operation, including more than 300 employees and their families, from St. Mary’s Parish in Louisiana to Port Wentworth, Georgia. The Savannah Sugar Refinery began melting sugar on July 7, 1917.
As was the case with the Holly acquisition, the Company again more than doubled in size, becoming the largest processor and refiner of sugar in the U.S. Savannah’s two plants – Port Wentworth, Georgia and Gramercy, Louisiana became ISC’s main processing facilities.
Savannah Foods & Industries, Inc. had acquired Michigan Sugar, a beet sugar producer in Saginaw, Michigan in 1984, Great Lakes Sugar, in 1985 and Colonial Sugar Refinery located in Gramercy, Louisiana in 1986. The acquisition of Savannah Foods made Imperial Holly the first truly national sugar refiner and marketer in the country.
ISC filed for Chapter 11, due to lower sales for refined sugar and higher energy costs and it emerged from bankruptcy on August 29, 2001. In 2002 Imperial Holly sold Michigan Sugar Company and its Worland, Wyoming beet facility to grower cooperatives and its Rocky Mountain beet facilities to American Crystal Sugar Company. Upon the sale of these two entities, Imperial Holly became Imperial Sugar Company. In 2003, the original sugar refinery in Sugar Land was closed, however corporate offices still remain in the founding city.
Two buildings on the Sugar Land factory property were imploded by developers in order to accommodate future redevelopment plans including residences, business properties, and community park. Also, ISC contributed its Gramercy, Louisiana refinery to Louisiana Sugar Refiners, LLC (LSR) in exchange for a one-third interest in the new company. LSR commenced operations on January 1, 2011. In 2013, Cargill and Sugar Growers and Refiners, Inc., (SUGAR) acquired all of Imperial Sugar’s interest in LSR and each retained a 50% interest in the million-ton-per-year sugar refinery.
ISC was acquired by Louis Dreyfus Company, a global merchandiser of commodities, a major asset owner and a processor of agricultural goods. As part of the Louis Dreyfus Company portfolio ISC again became one of the top three global sugar merchandisers and one of the largest cane sugar refiners worldwide.
Imperial Sugar Company celebrated its 175th anniversary.