The Great Western Sugar Company was incorporated in February 1901 by Charles Boettcher and others including John F. Campion, after having difficulty making their Colorado Sugar Manufacturing Company factory in Grand Junction, Colorado a success and selling it to locals.
Colorado Sugar had an agreement to build a plant in Loveland, Colorado in 1899, with the Utah Sugar Company eyeing expansion into Colorado, and Colorado Sugar lacking resources to follow through quickly, they gave their Loveland agreement to Great Western. Great Western brought in other high-level investors (Eben Smith, David Moffat, William Jackson Palmer), created the Great Western Construction Company, then had the subsidiary build their first sugar beet processing plant, opening on November 21, 1901. The first year was a failure, both for beet quality and problems at the factory, so they hired Mark Austin from Utah Sugar to improve their situation.
Great Western created the Great Western Railway subsidiary in 1902, which allowed an expansion of the territory from which a beet sugar factory could collect product. Great Western also created the Loveland Construction Company, which built the railway, primarily with Japanese workers. By 1976 the railway had 58 miles of track, all standard gauge.
Rounds of price wars with the Sugar Trust in 1900-1902 eliminated Great Western's Colorado competitors, and the Trust acquired control of Great Western by 1904. The Trust set prices, trained factories and farmers, assigned plants and farmers to regional "beet districts" to prevent plants from competing against each other with the farmers, but left the factories independent to conduct other business. In 1905 Great Western was reestablished as a New Jersey corporation and acquired four Colorado factories.
Colorado was the largest producer of beet sugar by 1906. By 1926 there were a total of 17 factories, including 13 from Great Western.
Starting at its creation in 1901 Great Western brought in Russian/German families (who had experience with sugar beet farming), single Japanese men (until immigration restrictions eliminated them in 1907), and Mexican workers to help with the labors of sugar beet farming. The Russian/Germans were preferred for their experience at producing high beet yields. Their upward mobility, not afforded to Hispanic workers, meant they contributed less in the labor pool. By the 1910s and the 1920s the Hispanic/Mexican farmworkers had taken over the need for beet labor.
Great Western cut contract prices to farmers in the 1910s and 1920s, leading to the "Loveland Resolutions" accord by farmers associations against the company. Colorado passed the Cooperative Marketing Law in 1923, allowing co-ops as legal entities. This allowed farmers to present a united front and raise the contract prices of beets. This, fewer farmers planting beets, and curly top disease lowering yields caused Great Western to create a profitsharing contract, splitting the profits from selling the sugar 50-50. This became standard for the industry.
The Great Depression in 1929 substantially reduced both demand and prices, nearly ruining the industry. Tariffs were passed, which did not help. The Sugar Trust lobbied and got included in the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) through the Jones–Costigan amendment. This reduced imports and set base prices on sugar. The dust bowl continued the interwar period traumas to the industry. Some farmers were protected from drought per the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, created through farm and industry lobbying.
World War II brought an end to the Depression and drought, and brought back consumer demand. The lack of labor incentivized change: more reliable seeds were developed, which meant labor-intensive thinning and blocking was unnecessary and mechanical harvesting was perfected becoming rapidly adopted. However, AAA kept a cap on prices and profitability, hindering recovery. A long drought also hit in the 1950s.
During the war, Great Western sought employees from the Heart Mountain Japanese American internment camp An announcement on 2 April 1943 described "choice contracts" for Heart Mountain workers, and a quarter-page Great Western ad in September 1943 discussed pricing, transportation, and said "Many farmers need help to harvest the sugar beet crop. You will be welcomed by the public and your efforts will be appreciated." During the 1942-1945 seasons, Japanese American laborers brought in 20% of the sugar beet crop in the nation, despite deep hatred and racism. After the war, Great Western offered relocation to families to work as laborers in near Billings and Lovell.
A byproduct of the process was molasses that could not be crystallized into sugar. This was used as food, sold as livestock feed, or distilled into alcohol. Beginning in the 1950s, it was put through the Steffen process to produce monosodium glutamate (MSG). Great Western had one MSG plant in Fort Collins.
In 1965, William M. White Jr., at age 25, was a vice present at Allen & Company. Invited back to Colorado from New York by James A. Krentler, the two acquired Denver's Colorado Milling and Elevator Company (established 1885) in that year, then used that to take over Great Western in 1968. Great Western merged with Colorado Milling and became Great Western United Corporation with White as the president.