THE SUGAR CANE IN BRAZIL
It is possible to state that the sugar cane supported the process of colonization in Brazil, being the reason for its prosperity in the first two centuries of history. From its Discovery in 1500, until 1532, there are references that the sugar cane was cultivated and sugar cane was produced in the Brazilian northeast, most specifically in the state of Pernambuco.
Historians agree that it was the captaincy of Pernambuco, belonging to Duarte Coelho, the place where the first sugar center was founded and bloomed in Brazil, encouraged by three important aspects:
The ability and eficiency of the doner, the land itself and weather favorable to the sugar cane culture, and the geographic location closer to Europe in comparison to the São Vicente region (in the State of São Paulo), another producing center that stood out as the other starter sugar cane producer in Brazil during the colonial period.
The progress of this industry was outstanding by the end of the sixteenth century. In Bahia, where the natives had destroyed the first mil, the production started only after 1550.
The State of Alagoas, which borders with Pernambuco, only had its first mil around the year of 1575.
In the State of Sergipe, the portuguese precedente from Bahia started the sugar cane production in 1590.
In the State of Paraíba, the first attempt on the introduction of the sugar cane culture was in 1579, in Restinga Island, which has failed due to the French pirate invasion in the region. The definitive implementatio of the sugar cane culture in Paraíba occured with its first mil in 1587.
In the State of Pará, the first mills were installed by the Dutch, possibily before the 1600’s. The first Portuguese mill in that State started working between 1616 and 1618.
In both the States of Pará and Amazonas the mills strayed their production to hard liquor, instead of sugar.
The production of sugar in the State of Ceará wasn’t impressive, starting in 1622, but soon changing its aim to the production of hard liquor.
In the State of Piauí the history identify that the sugar cane tillage started around 1678.
In the year of 1692, it is registered only one fully operational mil in the State of Rio Grande do Norte.
The Northeast region, represented mainly by Pernambuco, Bahia, Alagoas and Paraíba, symbolized the luxury. The wealth reigned since the sugar cane’s agroindustry monoculture paid all the costs and covered all of the Captaincy’s necessities.
As of the abolisinhg of slavery in Brazil (1888), the mills had already incorporated almost all important sugar industry innovations of any part of the world existing by the time. With the abolition, had at their disposal financial resources that were previously destined to the purchase and maintenance of slave.
Hence a new era in the sugar industry in Brazil comes up with the rise of the so-called “Central Mills”, precursors of the present sugar mills.
The sugar cane was the first big tillage in Brazil, having corresponding mills in the States of Pernambuco, Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. From the Discovery of the country in 1500 to 1600, the sugar cane was the main Brazilian product sold in Europe. The concept of “Engenho” (mill) is a tillage with an annex factory that works with the reaped production. It is also the set of machinery used to prepare the sugar cane derivatives: sugar and alcohol.
This Central Mill is also called Schimdt Plant and its history starts with the purchase, in 1902, of the farm Pocinhos, that belonged to Alexandre Balbo, by Francisco Schimdt – German immigrant knowns as the King of Coffee and owner of a neighbor farm called Vassoural.
Schimdt had decided to enter in the sugar Market in a partnership with the German company Theodor Wille, from Hamburg. Francisco Schimdt was one of the greatest coffee farmers of his time. Born in 1850 in Germany, he arrived in Brasil still a child and lived until 1924.
Focusing on the sugar exportation, in 1906, Schmidt obtained the perks of tax exemption – granted by a law aproved by the Municipal Court of Ribeirão Preto – for whom invested in other cultures. It was when he built the Central Mill in Sertãozinho and began the industrial activities on the place.
Central Mill’s first machines were fabricated in the United Kingdom and France, between the 1870’s and 1880’s, had been acquired by Schmidt alongside another great farmer of the time, Henrique Dumont Villares, who, in 1898, was the owner of a mill in city of Santa Rosa do Viterbo (SP), the first of the region.
With the abundant sugar production, the Central Mill had major impact in the regional commerce. The sugar produced by Schmidt had the trademark “Crystal” and, by the time, the railway company Cia. Mogiana de Estradas de Ferro had to stretch its rails to the bagging door of the mil. In 1924, the “Colonel” Francisco Schimdt passed away and, in 1961, his heirs sold Vassoural farm to Maurílio Biagi who, in 1964, also acquired the Central Mill and its production rights.
In 1966, Biagi constituted the Companhia Agro Idustrial Engenho Central (Central Mill’s Agro Industrial Company) which, working with the support of Santa Elisa plant, kept producing sugar and alcohol until the mid 1973, when it put na end on its activities.
Maurílio Biagi passed away in 1978. From then on, Luiz Biagi, Maurílio’s second son – supported by the entire Family, aimed to preserve both the edifications and the Central Mill’s original machinery, already with the intention of creating the museum.
In 2006, the complex was donated by the Biagi Family to the Engenho Central Cultural Institute, institution founded with the objective of taking the Project of implementation of the museum forward, which now has become reality.