Eldridge, William Thomas (1862–1932)

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

William Thomas Eldridge, businessman, was born in Washington County, Texas, on September 8, 1862. He left home at the age of twelve and moved to Eagle Lake in the early 1880s. He served a term as city marshal, opened a hotel, and around 1900 helped build the Cane Belt Railroad. He built and operated two company towns (Bonus and Eldridge), as well as several businesses in Eagle Lake. After being acquitted of murder charges for killing two men who threatened his life, he moved to Sugar Land and, with the prominent Kempner family of Galveston, bought the Cunningham Sugar Refinery and its 20,000-acre plantation. The new owners organized as the Imperial Sugar Company and named Eldridge manager. Under his control the company built a new refinery and developed a system of irrigation for the various crops. Tariff charges on sugar, however, prevented Texas cane from competing with Hawaiian and Cuban sugarcane, so Eldridge turned to other crops to diversify his farm. He then imported raw sugar from Cuba for refining, and in 1907 produced a half million pounds of sugar a day. His was the only sugar refinery operating in the Southwest. Imperial Sugar became one of the most important sugar companies in Texas history. Under Eldridge's control the partnership built a complete company town with 435 homes for permanent employees of the factory, the stores, and the farms at Sugar Land. On what had been the Cunningham plantation Eldridge grew sugarcane, cotton, feed grains, fruit crops, and such vegetables as cabbages, potatoes, yams, and corn. He acquired, improved, then sold seven more railroads of varying sizes, including the Sugar Land Railroad, the San Antonio, Uvalde and Gulf Railroad, the Asherton and Gulf Railway, and the Rio Grande City Railway. Most of these lines were sold to the Missouri Pacific. Eldridge contracted with the Sealy Mattress Company to manufacture mattresses at Sugar Land. He died on August 20, 1932.

Robert M. Armstrong, Sugar Land and the Imperial Sugar Company (Sugar Land, Texas, 1991). Houston Post, August 22, 1932. S. G. Reed, A History of the Texas Railroads (Houston: St. Clair, 1941; rpt., New York: Arno, 1981).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Anonymous, “Eldridge, William Thomas,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed December 04, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/eldridge-william-thomas.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995