The Domino Sugar refinery (and its iconic red neon sign) is one of the last major working industries along Baltimore's inner harbor. Raw sugar arrives at the plant in giant ships and barges, and is unloaded and refined to become white, powdered, and brown sugar, as well as various liquid sugar products. Packaged and distributed via highways and railways, sugar produced in Baltimore travels to kitchens across the nation. This South Baltimore site is the second largest sugar refinery in the U.S.
The 30-acre, 15-building campus was constructed in 1921 and opened for business in 1922. The buildings remain largely unchanged, as they were a “monument of state-of-the-art modern industrial design” (according to its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places) a century ago.
Baltimore was once home to six different sugar refineries, though only Domino remains. This industry boomed between 1865-1873, when Baltimore’s rail system and shipping channels attracted six manufacturers to the area. The industry fell apart in the 1870s when a major importer of sugar and molasses declared bankruptcy.
Domino® Sugar was first produced in New York in 1901 and received a trademark in 1906. American Sugar Refining, Inc. (ASR), a subsidiary of ASR Group International, Inc. (ASR Group), based in Florida, acquired Domino Sugar in 2001. ASR owns the Domino refineries in Locust Point as well as Yonkers, New York, and Chalmette, Louisiana; they also own the leading West Coast brand C&H® Sugar, the Canadian brand Redpath®, the British brands Tate & Lyle® and Lyle’s® and Sidul® in Portugal.
Workers process approximately 6.5 million pounds of raw cane sugar each day, operating round-the-clock over three shifts Monday-Friday and 24/7 from September to January, when demand for sugar is higher. As of January 2020, the plant employed 485 workers and generated 125 related transportation jobs. The sugar processed here ends up at grocery stores as well as in the industrial kitchens of food suppliers.
The red neon “Domino Sugars” sign was installed in 1951. Triangle Signs installed and continues to maintain this South Baltimore landmark, visible from across the harbor. The scale is hard to fathom—a semi-truck could drive through the hole in the “O.” This sign serves not only as a stunning local landmark but also a reminder that Domino Sugar still operates in its original location on the harbor. What types of businesses do you think might operate along Baltimore’s waterfront a century from today?