From the triangle trade to labor struggles in Hawaii to the rise of high-fructose corn syrup, sweetness in America has always been politically charged. Why has sugar been so intimately linked to power over the centuries? How has our national sweet tooth shaped our political and economic priorities?
In this episode of BackStory, we’ll explore sweetness in American history. The Sugar Act of 1764 helped feed colonial resentment of Great Britain, paving the way for protests and, ultimately, the American Revolution. A century and a half later, US tariff walls gave Puerto Rican sugar a ready market – but pushed the territory toward a one-crop economy that later collapsed.
Through the 19th century, sugar was intimately linked to slavery; free blacks in the 1830s boycotted slave-produced sugar in a stand against the “peculiar institution.” A century later, the sugar beet industry revolutionized the rural Midwest, bringing with it questions about the role of foreign migrant workers and urban factory workers. So where does sugar fit into labor history in the US? How has this tasty cash crop affected our environment and our economy? And what does it tell us about globalization before the 20th century?
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