Domino Sugar Refinery – Where the Real Sugar was Made

Nikola Petrovski

In the neighborhood of Williamsburg, deep inside Brooklyn in New York City, there stands a massive factory with a sign on top of it that reads Domino Sugars.

This sugar refinery was part of the original American Sugar Refining Company that produced none other than the original Domino Brand Sugar.

 

Crystal Domino sugar newspaper ad.

Crystal Domino sugar newspaper ad.

The devastated factory – taken in 2014. Author: Jessica Sheridan CC BY 2.0

The devastated factory – taken in 2014. Author: Jessica Sheridan CC BY 2.0

When it first opened in 1882, it had the honor of being the largest sugar refinery in the world. Regretfully, the factory met its end in 2004.

The structure was originally built in 1856 and by the 1870s this refinery was producing half of the sugar demand in the United States. It was the Havemeyer family that had the idea to begin with.

Domino Sugar neon sign. Author: Kathleen Tyler Conklin CC BY 2.0

Domino Sugar neon sign. Author: Kathleen Tyler Conklin CC BY 2.0

This family opened their first sugar refinery on Vandam Street in Manhattan just at the turn of the 19th century. Frederick C. Havemeyer Jr. (1807-1891) was the businessman who established the South 3rd Street factory on the Williamsburg waterfront. It was Henry Havemeyer (1847-1907) who came up with name Domino’s Sugar in the 1900s.

The sugar refining giant in its natural habitat. Author: Carlos Pacheco CC BY 2.0

The sugar refining giant in its natural habitat. Author: Carlos Pacheco CC BY 2.0

 

The factory in 1965. Author: Boston City Archives CC BY 2.0

The factory in 1965. Author: Boston City Archives CC BY 2.0

The factory was rebuilt in redbrick and stone after the fire of 1882. Once finished, it rose up ten stories high. In 2007, some of the buildings of this refinery were given landmark status by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. After the fire of 1882, another terrible accident shook the factory in 1917.

The red brick building. Author: eva101 CC BY 2.0

The red brick building. Author: eva101 CC BY 2.0

 

The original building that dates back to 1882. Author: Idamantium CC BY-SA 3.0

The original building that dates back to 1882. Author: Idamantium CC BY-SA 3.0

A titanic explosion in the refinery shook the residents of Brooklyn, killing several workers. Given the fact that this was during the First World War, naturally, the cause of the explosion was ascribed to the work of German agents.

Inside the Domino Sugar Factory. Author: Jason Eppink CC BY 2.0

Inside the Domino Sugar Factory. Author: Jason Eppink CC BY 2.0

The same thing happened in 2007 when another explosion rocked New Yorkers once again. The reason was the sugar dust that had accumulated in the factory over the years. This refinery also holds another record – New York City’s longest labor strikes in history. It all began in 1999 when 250 workers protested about their wages and working conditions. The strike ended in 2001.

The poor condition of the factory. Author: Tony Hisgett CC BY 2.0

The poor condition of the factory. Author: Tony Hisgett CC BY 2.0

After more than 148 years, the refinery had to close its doors and 255 workers were made redundant. The factory is scheduled for demolition and as of 2017, the property is under redevelopment as office space, residential towers, and parkland.

The truck sign inside the factory. Author: Nora Gomez CC BY-ND 2.0

The truck sign inside the factory. Author: Nora Gomez CC BY-ND 2.0

The interest around these apartments is so enormous that a housing lottery was held which gathered 87,000 applications, or more than 837 people per apartment. The whole project is expected to be completed in 2025.