Claus Spreckels, Sugar Baron & Patriarch
Claus Spreckels (1828-1908) Father of John Spreckels. Born in Germany, he moved to the United States, becoming a grocer in Charleson, South Carolina, and then moving to San Francisco by 1856. This would be just a few years after California's annexaction by the United States after the 1846 Mexican-American War. In San Francisco, Claus Spreckels expanded into brewing, and made his first fortune. He was married to a German immigrant woman named Anna Christina Mangels (1829-1910), with whom he had five children that survived into adulthood. Of these four boys and one girl, the eldest was John Spreckels, a central figure in our 1892 blackmail story at the Hotel del Coronado. See Claus Spreckels at Wikipedia for more information, or look it up in other print or digital resources.
Hawai'i Sugar Baron Claus Spreckels maintained his family headquarters in San Francisco, which still bears his name on a park and other public places. In the 1860s, he involved himself increasingly in the sugar trade. This included sugar from cane fields in Hawai'i, transported by ship across the Pacific Ocean to California, as well as sugar from sugar beets grown in California. Spreckels kept a foot in both sources, with great foresight as it would turn out. From the 1860s to the 1890s, he was perhaps the most powerful man in Hawai'i, owing to his close relationship with the Monarchy of King David Kalakaua, and his ability to handpick the king's cabinet advisors. King David, the 'Merrie Monarch,' was a progressive soul who tried to reinstate traditional Hawai'ian values and culture that had been severely impacted by growing U.S. domination in the Pacific. A confluence of religious, business, and political forces, which will remind many readers of current trends, led to the undermining of the Hawai'ian monarchy. Spreckels' primary rival was the Dole dynasty. Rival planters wanted the king overthrown, Spreckels out, and the country a U.S. territory, which is precisely what happened. TOP
Last King of Hawai'i, First King at the Hotel del Coronado. In 1887, while restocking his yacht Lurline in San Diego, John Spreckels fell in love with this quiet backwater. At that time, San Diego was a tiny (perhaps 20,000 souls) city near the U.S.-Mexican border, overshadowed in trade by Long Beach and Los Angeles. Most likely, John saw it as a place where he could get out from under his billionaire father's shadow and create a fortune of his own. More on this at the John Spreckels entry. By 1891, John was part owner of the Hotel del Coronado, and by 1892 sole owner. At Christmas dinner 1891, he hosted his father's close friend, King David Kalakaua at the Hotel Del, with a banquet in the Crown Room. King David (1836-1891) thus became the first crowned head of a sovereign nation to stay at the Hotel del Coronado. King David traveled from Coronado to San Francisco, where he stayed at the Palace Hotel as a guest of his friend, John's father, Claus Spreckels. King David died suddenly on January 20, 1891, at the Palace Hotel, practically in the arms of Claus. If there was foul play involved, it has not been elaborated to my knowledge. To be sure, Claus and David both had copious powerful enemies who wanted to see the King dead so they could fulfill their desire to annex Hawai'i. That occurred, almost to the day, two years later, in January 1893, just a few weeks after the death of Lottie A. Bernard at John Spreckels' Hotel del Coronado. TOP
Later Life of Claus Spreckels. Like many mega-wealthy dynasties, the Spreckelses were a picturesque lot of men and women. Their history is beyond the scope of this story or this website. Suffice it to say, after Spreckels was ousted from Hawai'i in 1893 by Dole and his cabal, Spreckels (no paragon of virtue either) restarted his sugar empire in California, near Monterey, at a town now called Spreckels. There he created a new sugar empire based on sugar beets. Spreckels originally founded the California Sugar Company. His rivals founded the Hawai'i Sugar Company, which they later combined as the California and Hawai'i Sugar Company, or C&H. Spreckels' rival company was the Spreckels Sugar Company. To this day, if you sit in a restaurant anywhere in California, chances are that the sugar packets in your bowl will either read C&H or Spreckels. None of the original owners, including the Spreckelses, own them any longer. TOP