Sugar industry in Cuba and the steam plough. 

By  Alexis Martin

In 1863 at the sugar mill “Concepcion” in Sabinalla, Matanzas Cuba a huge steam tractor was getting ready to be the first test of Steam plowing done in Latin America. This machine consisted of a steam tractor with a connected cable pulling system attached to a two-sided plow (see Image) that was “driven” by an operator while been pulled from one end.

Sugar industry steam tractor
Restored Folwer Steam tractor Image from: http://www.tractiontime.co.uk/

In those years the sugar industry of Cuba was the number one in the world, in fact, the 1860’s Cuba produced nearly one-third of the world’s sugar.  Thanks to the rapid industrialization of the industry, including top of the line steam technologies of the time implemented in the sugar mills and in the agricultural side.

Slavery, Sugar industry, and Cuban Independence.

One cannot talk about the Cuban sugar industry without mention the injustice of slavery. Slavery had an unimaginable human toll. During the 1860s there was a strong abolitionist movement in Cuba against the practice. In 1868 many Cuban plantation owners were plotting to start an independence war against Spain.

On October 10 Carlos Manuel De Cespdez a rich plantation owner issued a cry of independence, the “10th of October Manifesto” at La Demajagua, giving the freedom to its slaves and calling upon them to join the fight for an independent Cuba.

Sugar industry Carlos Manuel de cespedez
Carlos Manuel de Cespedes at La Demajagua

10th of October Manifesto

“Our aim is to enjoy the benefits of freedom, for whose use, God created man. We sincerely profess a policy of brotherhood, tolerance, and justice, and to consider all men equal, and to not exclude anyone from these benefits, not even Spaniards, if they choose to remain and live peacefully among us.

Our aim is that the people participate in the creation of laws, and in the distribution and investment of the contributions.

Our aim is to abolish slavery and to compensate those deserving compensation. We seek freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and the freedom to bring back honest governance; and to honor and practice the inalienable rights of men, which is the foundations of the independence and the greatness of a people.

Our aim is to throw off the Spanish yoke, and to establish a free and independent nation….

When Cuba is free, it will have a constitutional government created in an enlightened manner.”

Sin Azucar no hay Pais.
(Without sugar there is no country)

Most of the identity of Cuba has been tied to the sugar cane producing and its knowledge passed thru generations. My maternal grandfather happens to be from this very town where these steam-driven plowing machines were fist used. He himself was a “Carretero” carrying freshly cut sugar cane with ox driven wagons (see image). I still reemember abuelo sitting with his Guayabera shirt smoking a cigar and telling stories under a tree.

Cuban SUgar Industry Carretero
Cuban Carretero from the The Flores-Carbonell Collection

Success! Internet Search.

I hope you enjoy this historical post about the Cuban sugar industry and this fascinating piece of equipment. I was looking for images of these steam plowing machines to share with you. Better yet I found a club of steam enthusiasts in the U.K with restored engine videos and information. You can find them here http://avalonvideo.co.uk/dvds.html


Alexis Martin

I'm a first-generation Cuban immigrant. I have a passion for everything Cuba. I love to share our culture and my expertise in the world-famous Guayabera Shirt.

On December 18, 2002, I sold my first Cuban Guayabera shirt online. I fell in love with the process and the fact that this is a business, you always have to be willing to learn. Many things have changed since then, new software services, new concepts. At Mycubanstore.com, we had been able to ride different market waves. We are always humbled and grateful for this privilege of building a future in this great country.

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  1. A very informative article. It reminded me that when I was in Cuba in 2003 there was a lot of acknowledgement of Jose Marti but also of Antonio Maceo, called Thee Black George Washington who said (paraphrasing) if slavery is not ended in Cuba right after the revolution, there will be a second revolution in Cuba. The relationship of enslavement to Cuban sugar prosperity is similar to that in the USA, fundamental but fundamentally wrong
    Keep up the good work of sharing info on Cuba!

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