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The discovery of sugar beet – a revolution in European sugar production

The tremendous sugar price increase, caused by the end of cane sugar production in Santo Domingo, the world’s largest sugar producer at the end of the 18th century, together with the Napoleonic Continental System, cutting the European continent off from the English cane sugar trade, necessitated a search throughout Europe for sugar surrogates from domestic plants.
Various plants were used for experiments, among others grapes, corn, maple and sweet chestnuts. Eventually, the Prussian chemist Andreas Sigismund Marggraf succeeded in proving that the sugar in sugar cane also occurs in beet – and with this, a fascinating success story began.
Andreas Sigismund Marggraf discovers that beet contains the same sugar as sugar cane. In the following years he publishes his research results. He is appointed head of the chemical laboratory and later director of the physical class of the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin.
After further experiments, Marggraf presents sugar produced by himself to the Prussian king.
Franz Carl Achard, one of Marggraf’s students, continues his teacher’s work with sugar beets and takes care of the practical realization. He also presents sugar samples to the Prussian king Frederick William III. The monarch fosters Achard’s research on a larger scale.
The Silesian mountain refinery in Hirschberg processes beets for the first time and thus – independent of Achard – provides evidence of the ability to refine beet sugar.
Achard builds the world’s first beet sugar factory at Cunern/Silesia and in the years to follow publishes several papers on sugar production from beets which circulate all over Europe.
Apart from the productional aspects Achard engages himself in beet cultivation. All sugar beet varieties known today trace back to the cultivations by Achard.
Baron Moritz von Koppy builds a beet sugar factory on his property in Silesian Krayn. He is technically and scientifically supported by Achard. Through their cooperation and Koppy’s idea to also use the by-products of the sugar production, this factory develops into the first one to make a profit. In 1811, the production site is destroyed by a fire and it is not until three years later that Koppy’s son can resume the sugar production in Krayn.
Due to the Napoleonic Continental System large sections of continental Europe are cut off from the English colonial produce trade. This gives fresh impetus to the beet sugar production and numerous beet sugar factories emerge. Napoleon’s beet sugar friendly legislation additionally fosters this development leading to a vivid exchange between Achard and many companies from all over Europe.
After the end of the Napoleonic Continental System cane sugar trade flourishes again and the sugar price drops to a third. Gradually, the German beet sugar factories become unprofitable and have to close down.
After the campaign in 1821/22
The last German beet sugar manufacturer Georg Friedrich Wilhelm von Koppy closes down the factory in Krayn which he has inherited from his father and devotes himself to beet seed breeding. The beet variety Betterave de Koppy or Betterave de Silésie, which is particularly popular in France and Belgium, originates from his cultivation.