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Braga Brothers Collection

Identifier: MS Group 187

Scope and Content

The Braga Brothers Collection is the gift of George Atkinson Braga and B. Rionda Braga to the University of Florida's George A. Smathers Libraries. Donated to the Libraries' Department of Special Collections in 1981, the collection is one of the richest archival sources on the modernization and expansion of the Cuban sugar industry. As the archive of a large North American company that did business in Cuba it provides insights to the unique commercial relationship that once existed between Cuba and the United States. The collection is, as well, an unavoidable historical source on topics pertaining to the social and political aspects of sugar production in pre-Castro Cuba.

The principal holdings in the collection are the records of the Czarnikow-Rionda Company of New York and its subsidiaries and affiliates. From the beginning of the 20th century until the early 1960s, Czarnikow-Rionda was one of North America's largest importers of sugar and molasses. Although it traded in sugar from around the world, its principal source was Cuba. From its offices on Wall Street the company bought and sold ship loads of raw sugar, provided sugar mills with equipment and supplies, and negotiated short term crop loans to Cuba's sugar producers. Czarnikow-Rionda's affiliated companies in Cuba and the United States included cane farms, sugar mills, storage and weighing facilities, a sugar refinery, alcohol distilleries, and cattle ranches.

The Braga Brothers Collection also documents a family network that has been involved in the sugar industry since the mid-1800s. The collection begins in 1860 with the records of Lewis Benjamin, a commission merchant in New York City. The link to Cuba and sugar begins in 1873 when Benjamin formed a partnership with Joaquín Rionda y Polledo, a Spanish immigrant with family ties to a Cuban sugar producer. From there, the collection journeys through almost one hundred years of sugar history.

The collection consists primarily of administrative correspondence--letters, memoranda, and cables. Production data and records related to the technology employed in the manufacture of raw sugar, molasses, alcohol, and other cane products are evident as well. Ledgers and other accounting books, blueprints, and maps are also found in the collection. The latter includes original maps of the sugar estates and aerial photographic surveys of the Francisco and Manati sugar mills.

English and Spanish are used throughout the collection, and a knowledge of both languages is essential to properly research some topics. Codes used for the names of people and companies present a more perplexing problem. Codes were used primarily for business security, but were often employed in sensitive communication related to government relations. A list of terms decoded by researchers is available here.


  • Creation: 1860-1984
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1895-1970


The collection is open for research.

Biographical/Historical Note

The principal holdings of the collection are related to the Czarnikow-Rionda Company of New York (founded in 1909) and its subsidiaries and affiliates. The Czarnikow-Rionda Company was a major raw sugar trading house, and through its affiliate, the Cuban Trading Company, it handled approximately twenty percent of Cuba's sugar exports between 1909 and 1960. Czarnikow-Rionda purchased and sold Cuban cane sugar and molasses, and exported jute bags, mill machinery, and other provisions to Cuba.

In addition, Czarnikow-Rionda owned or controlled six raw sugar factories in Cuba. Czarnikow-Rionda and its affiliates were involved in every sector of the cane sugar business including cane cultivation, refining, storage and transportation, financing, and brokerage. The collection also includes nineteenth century material from several commission merchant houses based in New York and Cuba. These firms operated a trade network between Europe, the United States, and Cuba, and were typical of the Spanish merchant houses that once dominated Cuba's commercial life.


375.5 Linear feet (532 boxes, 507 volumes)

Language of Materials



Records related to trade, manufacture, and cultivation of Cuban sugar. The records begin in the second half of the nineteenth century and end shortly after the nationalization of the Cuban sugar industry by the government of Fidel Castro. As a business archives, the Collection provides information on the manufacture and trade of Cuban sugar and the means by which Cuba's annual sugar harvest was financed and brokered. The collection provides descriptions of the social, political, and economic environment in which Cuban sugar was manufactured. The collection is an important source of data on the international sugar trade and the commercial and financial ties that once bound Cuba and the United States together.


The Braga Brothers Collection is arranged in four record groups and is further divided into record series.

Record Group 1, 1860-1885, documents the business activities of Francisco, Joaquín, and Manuel Rionda y Polledo, three Spanish brothers who came to Cuba and the United States and laid the foundation for later industrial and commercial enterprises.

Record Group 2, 1880-1951, contains the administrative files and letterbooks from the office of Manuel Rionda y Polledo, first president and chairman of the Czarnikow-Rionda Company.

Record Group 3, 1891-1984, consists of records created by the Czarnikow-Rionda Company and its predecessor, Czarnikow, MacDougall and Company. It contains the reference and correspondence files of corporate officials and the records of ten departments.

Record Group 4, 1899-1968, contains records of the Manati Sugar Company, the Francisco Sugar Company, and other affiliates and subsidiaries of the Czarnikow-Rionda Company. Most of Record Group IV depicts the production of raw sugar and other cane products, but there is also substantial documentation on Cuban cattle ranches and several experimental ventures. In addition, the record group includes material from the W. J. McCahan Sugar Refining and Molasses Company, a Philadelphia refinery owned by Czarnikow-Rionda.

Additional documents were donated to the Libraries by the Braga family in 1993. When possible, these items were merged with existing records series and record groups. Some materials, however, fell outside the scope of the original donation. These are described in an "Addendum" group and include the personal papers and memoirs of several members of the Braga family. The addendum also describes non-textual materials, such as photographs, maps and plans, memorabilia, and artifacts.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

The Braga Brothers Collection is the gift of George Atkinson Braga and B. Rionda Braga to the University of Florida's George A. Smathers Libraries. Donated to the Libraries' Department of Special Collections in 1981.

Alternate Form of Material

Digital reproductions of selected items in the Braga Brothers Collection are available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC). Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

Much of Record Group 2 is available on microfilm in Latin American History and Culture, Series 7 and 8: Cuba and the American Sugar Trade: The Braga Brothers Collection. Thomson Gale, 2006.

A Guide to the Braga Brothers Collection
Finding aid prepared by Carl Van Ness
April 2010 (Updated January 2022)
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America