Sugar and Columbia University

Columbia's Havemeyer Hall was named after and donated by the Havemeyer family, a prominent sugar refining family in New York City. Henry Osborne Havemeyer, one of the third generation of men in his family to work in sugar refining, helped create the Sugar Trust and saw its transition into the American Sugar Refining Company in response to 1890 anti-trust laws. The sugar refining industry was embedded in slavery, both in the United States and in American and European colonies. The production of sugar depended almost entirely on the labor of enslaved people of African descent up until abolition. After the abolition of slavery in the United States, imports of foreign sugar increased dramatically, the majority of which came from Cuba, where slavery continued until 1886. A stipulation of anti-trust laws was that manufacturing of sugar was distinct from its production, absolving sugar refiners of accountability. Legal irresponsibility of course did not translate to anything but superficial detachment. Sugar refineries used and profited from slavery from the start. The sugar industry therefore illuminates the fallacies of the "moral North." 

At Columbia University, Charles Frederick Chandler was a professor of chemistry and an important figure in New York City politics and commerce. He was the President of the Department of Health, head of the chemistry department, consultant for multiple sugar refiners, including the Havemeyers, and highly respected voice in academia. As a source of legitimacy and authority for sugar refining interests, he built Columbia's chemistry department out of industrial, commercial interests. Charles Frederick Chandler is a visible intellectual, personal, and financial link between Columbia University and the Havemeyer sugar empire. His story links the university to sugar, to New York City, and to an international trade predicated on the stolen labor of people of African descent. 


Anne-Laure White