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Claus Spreckels

Claus Spreckels (1828–1908) was perhaps the most successful German-American immigrant entrepreneur of the late-nineteenth century; he was one of the ten richest Americans of his time.

The career of the “sugar king” of California, Hawaiʻi and the American West consisted of building and breaking monopolies in sugar, transport, gas, electricity, real estate, newspapers, banks and breweries.

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Three Germans were among the crew aboard Captain James Cook first visit to the islands in 1778. A few years later, Captain Henry Barber ran aground at Kalaeloa on Oʻahu. Captain Barber (we refer to this as “Barber’s Point,” however, the traditional name, Kalaeloa, is coming back into more common use).

Later, other early Germans to the Islands include, German scholar Adelbert von Chamisso, Georg Anton Schäffer, Paul Isenberg,
Heinrich Hackfeld, Dr. William Hillebrand, Claus Spreckels and Captain Henri Berger

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The Mansion

“Claus Spreckels, the Sugar King,… was for many years, intimately connected with the political and industrial history of Hawaii.” “He was … connected in many important ways with the commercial and industrial life of the Islands, and he had, during the thirty-two years since he first extended his interest to the Mid-Pacific, rendered great services to the leading industry of this Territory.” (Hawaiian Gazette, December 29, 1908)

He had a beautiful mansion on Punahou street. “The mansion, erected on a tract of Punahou property purchased from O‘ahu College (Punahou,) was for many years the finest private residence in the city, being the only second to that of the King’s palace. For years, until the hundreds of palms and other trees set out by the owner grew so as to practically hide the residence, the white three-story house of the Sugar King was one of the things pointed out to, tourists as a Honolulu landmark.” (Advertiser, December 27, 1893) This wasn’t Spreckels’ only mansion, “Claus Spreckels has just bought a large block pf property on the swell part of Van Ness avenue and intends to build a magnificent mansion there (in San Francisco.)”

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‘Transportation Determines the Flow of Population’

John Diedrich Spreckels was born August 16, 1853 in Charleston, South Carolina, the oldest of five children of Claus and Anna Spreckels. The family moved to New York and then to San Francisco where he grew up. He studied at Oakland College and then in Hanover, Germany, where he studied chemistry and mechanical engineering in the Polytechnic College until 1872. He returned to California and began working for his father.

On December 22, 1881, the Oceanic Steamship Company was incorporated in California – it was the first line to offer regular service between Honolulu and San Francisco. Spreckels became an investor in the Coronado Beach Company in 1889. He moved his family permanently to San Diego immediately after the 1906 earthquake. He said ‘transportation determines the flow of population,’ and he extended the streetcar system where he owned land, such as Mission Beach, Pacific Beach and Normal Heights.

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Oceanic Steamship Company

Sons of the Hawai‘i “Sugar King” (Claus Spreckels) formed John D Spreckels and Brothers (John Diedrich, Adolph Bernard and Claus August Spreckels.) On December 22, 1881, the Oceanic Steamship Company was incorporated in California. The company had its roots in a fleet of sailing vessels created in 1878 by Claus Spreckels, then a major sugar planter in Hawaii, to move raw sugar to his refinery in California.

In 1882, Oceanic Steamship first chartered ships, then owned and operated their own fleet. The first of the fleet was the Mariposa, launched on March 7, 1883. The line was sold to Matson Navigation Co. in 1926 and operated as a Matson subsidiary thereafter. Its success led to the construction of the luxury liners Mariposa, Monterey and Lurline between 1930 and 1932.

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