Matson Navigation Company’s long association with Hawaiʻi began in 1882, when Captain William Matson sailed his three-masted schooner Emma Claudina from San Francisco to Hilo, Hawaii, carrying 300 tons of food, plantation supplies and general merchandise.
That voyage launched a company that has been involved in such diversified interests as oil exploration, hotels and tourism, military service during two world wars and even briefly, the airline business. Matson’s primary interest throughout, however, has been carrying freight between the Pacific Coast and Hawaii. (Matson)
They started carrying people, too; via ship was the only way to get to/from the Islands. With increasing passenger traffic to Hawaii, Matson built a world-class luxury liner, the S.S. Malolo, in 1927.
At the time, the Malolo was the fastest ship in the Pacific, cruising at 22 knots. Its success led to the construction of the luxury liners Mariposa, Monterey and Lurline between 1930 and 1932. Matson’s famed “white ships” were instrumental in the development of tourism in Hawaii. (Matson)
Then, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce had an idea for a goodwill mission. “This good-will mission Around the Pacific is one of the most ambitious enterprises ever fostered by the Chamber of Commerce and has become of national, if not international, import.”
“It will be a good will mission in a literal sense because in its wide scope it embodies many purposes which will make it a tangible expression of good will from San Francisco and the nation, of which it is an important part, toward the other nations which fringe the wide stretches of the Pacific”. (Neale; San Francisco Business, April 10, 1929)
“The goodwill mission making the three months voyage on the Malolo will comprise component groups of business and professional men representing every line of constructive, commercial, industrial, social, professional and civic activity in San Francisco.”
“Briefly, the voyage will take three months. It will be made on the Malolo, known as the “Queen of the Matson fleet.” The itinerary includes stops at Yokohama, Tokyo, Nikko, Kobe, Kyoto, Peking, Shanghai, Hongkong, Manila, Saigon, Bangkok, Singapore, Batavia (Jakarta,) Soerabaya (Indonesia,) Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Suva, Pago Pago, Hilo and Honolulu.” (Neale; San Francisco Business, April 10, 1929)
“All of this was focused under the leadership of Mr. Charles C Moore. … He is a man, in San Francisco, of international mind and contact; he is a man of wide experience and vision; he is a man of dynamic energy; he is a man of tremendous idealism, practical idealism …”
“… he is a man who felt that he could discharge a duty here around the Pacific, having met the peoples of the world at the time of the great exposition, having had contacts with them all during these years.”
“We started out with the idea that we would get all of these people from San Francisco. We failed, fortunately. We thought we would get them all from California. We failed. The trip was on too grand a scale. The scope and character and cost of that trip was almost a million dollars – $900,000 to be exact – and so we appealed to the United States Chamber of Commerce.”
“We wanted it to be strictly a business trip. We secured representatives from twenty-six states and two territories. Practically every man aboard that boat was a business man, or interested in business problems.”
“The ladies on board the boat were either of the families, or they were business women, or women that sympathized most deeply and furnished a splendid background to the idealism of this particular trip.” (Neale; San Francisco Business, January 8, 1930)
On September 21, 1929, the SS Malolo sailed from San Francisco on the first leg of its Pacific cruise. Some 325 passengers were all acknowledged millionaires, specially selected by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Matson Navigation Company, owners of the SS Malolo. (McPhail)
This was to be the most luxurious cruise ever offered, aboard the world’s newest luxury liner. Because of the affluent passengers, the ‘Around Pacific Cruise’ was also dubbed the ‘Millionaires Cruise.’
They all started that way, but economic conditions changed into the cruise. The Great War had been won, stocks were soaring, speedy new cars and fancy electric products were all the rage, prohibition was ignored, and clothing and hairstyles were wild and loose and sexy.
Just 38 days later, on Black Tuesday – October 29, 1929 – the American stock market crashed and their lives were forever changed. (McPhail)
On Wall Street investors traded some 16 million shares on the New York Stock Exchange in a single day. Billions of dollars were lost, wiping out thousands of investors. Many went from fat cats to paupers. (Grace)
In the aftermath of Black Tuesday, America and the rest of the industrialized world spiraled downward into the Great Depression (1929-39,) the deepest and longest-lasting economic downturn in the history of the Western industrialized world up to that time.
The cruise continued across the Pacific, then to Hilo, Honolulu and home. “The Around The Pacific Good-Will Cruise was completed upon the return of the SS Malolo on December 21st (1929). This cruise is one of the outstanding achievements of the Chamber, and has established San Francisco’s leadership in Pacific trade.” (San Francisco Business)
“To sum up our trip briefly, I would like to say that in this trip we had a great vision of America’s place in the Pacific. The problems of all of these countries are our problems. If they are not solved it is going to wreck us as well as them.”
“The interests of the United States are bound up inextricably in this entire Pacific area. Our economic future is bound up there. The United States will realize more and more that the great future of this country is in the Pacific …”
“… and to properly meet the problems of the Pacific area, and of these Pacific countries, is a matter of vital interest to us and we must apply, in every possible way, all of the resources which we have to this end.” (Neale; San Francisco Business, January 8, 1930)
There was another outcome of the cruise. Typically ships were used as transportation to a destination, where passengers would disembark and stay at luxury hotels at their destination.
The Malolo was so luxurious that it was a destination in and of itself. It established a trend of cruising, where passengers could see far off places, and remain on board in luxury (in many cases those destinations did not have adequate land-based accommodations and would otherwise be bypassed.)
In the last 10-years, demand for cruising has increased 68%. Today (2016 estimates,) over 24-million passengers cruised the seven seas on nearly 450-ships, generating nearly $120-billion in total economic impact. (Cruise Lines International Association)
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Donald McPhail says
Dear Peter T. Young, I was pleasantly surprised to read your informative description of The Millionaires Cruise. Thanks for quoting my novel of the same name for some of your background. Along with “The White Ships” by author Duncan O’Brien, and a soon-to-be-released documentary by historian Rick Helin (a Kailua boy!), not much is known about this unusual cruise. It was an interesting time in U.S. history, and an important time in Hawaii’s rise as a major destination. Thanks for shining the light!
A hui hou,
Rick Helin says
Just a quick note to say thank you for getting the word out about the Millionaires Cruise of 1929. I love how you write.
As Don has mentioned, I have been researching this moment in time for the past three years and have now gathered four hours of film and over 1,000 photos taken by passengers aboard this grandmother of all cruises. I have contacted the descendants of passengers who have contributed seven journals and five diaries to restore some of our knowledge about this journey. Hopefully, we will be able to lace it all together into a fascinating story of our Pacific heritage.
The KailuaKid on Youtube