A Patriarch Moved to Tears: Farewell to Claus Spreckels Going East (May 6, 1888)

Claus Spreckels was often characterized as a rational man driven by his desire to accumulate wealth. The document, however, paints a different portrait of the businessman. Immigrant entrepreneur Claus Spreckels was influenced strongly by the ideals of the German patriarchal entrepreneur taking care of his employees. Wealth creation was not the only goal of German-American immigrant entrepreneurs. They were part of a network connecting workers, management, and entrepreneurs to community. The document provides instructive insights into the emotional dimensions of nineteenth-century business history.


From: “The Sugar King Wept,” Daily Alta California, May 6, 1888, 1.

“Such an event as occurred last evening at the Mission Turn Verein Hall is seldom witnessed in this city. Upward of six hundred of the employees of the California Sugar Refinery gathered there to take farewell of their employer and friend Claus Spreckels before he leaves for the East. The hall was nicely decorated with flags, banners and flowers. The affair was a complete surprise to Mr. Spreckels, who actually knew nothing of it until waited upon at his residence on Howard street by the reception committee, which was composed of Captain H.Z. Howard, F.M. Baumgarten and Fred Samuels. These gentlemen told Mr. Spreckels that his men wished to speak to him at the Verein Hall. There Chief Clerk C.T. Maurer called the meeting to order, and Peter Smith, Superintendent of the Works, who has been employed by the refinery for twenty-five years, was elected for the evening. He called upon Chief Engineer Charles Watson to address the assembly.” Watson talked about Claus Spreckels’s acchievements at the Pacific Coast. He concluded: “All the honor to the man who has so nobly taken this stand. That he may meet with success in the great enterprise he is about to undertake, and live for many years to enjoy the results of his ardous labors, is the earnest prayer of all present, and my his illustrious example be an inducement for others to follow in his steps.” Vociferous applause followed. Secretary Fred Maurer read a resolution handsomely engraved on a plate of solid silver and mounted in California laurel wood. “’Claus Spreckels. Esq.—Dear Sir: We, the employes of the California Sugar Refinery and kindred institutions on this Coast, having learned, with regret, that you purpose leaving California with the intention of residing permanently in the East, cannot permit you to depart without taking the opportunity of expressing our high appreciation of the motives which have prompted you to take this step, our estimation of you as an employer, and our sincere desire for your success. At a mass-meeting held for this purpose the following resolutions were unanimously adopted, which we desire you to accept as being the heartfelt expression of our sentiments: Resolved, That the action of Claus Spreckels in refusing to enter the Sugar Trust has assured the maintenance of one of the greatest industries of California, and the extensive employment of labor. Resolved, that said action in opposing the Sugar Trust, we feel, has taken in the interest of his employees, who have spent years in his service, thus insuring to them the means of livelihood rather than from motives of self-interest. Resolved, That Claus Spreckels, by his liberality of spirit, kindness and justice, has won the heartfelt esteem and gratitude of all his emploees. Resolved, That Claus Spreckels has our best wishes for the success of the great enterprise he has undertaken, and which should entitle him to the sympathy and support of the American people. Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be suitably engrossed and presented to Mr. Spreckels prior to his departure to Philadelphia.’ When the Chairman handed these resolutions to Mr. Spreckels, the man who has fought his way in life with an unblanched cheek; who, by sheer determination to succeed, has gained for himself the title of Sugar King, by which he is known throughout the civilized world, completely broke down and wept like a child at the token of his affection and esteem of his sixteen hundred employees. The silence which prevailed at this moment throughout the large hall was painful in the extreme, and here and there an audible sob broke from the rugged working-men, who for the first time saw their chief in tears. Conquering his emotions with a great effort, Mr. Spreckels, in a yet hardly firm voice, spoke the thanks which he so heartily felt. Then, feeling that it was necessary to add something, he spoke of the Sugar Trust. This body had offered him a million of dollars to go in with them and close down the California refinery. He could never consent, however, to throw out of employment the men who had so faithfully served him for twenty and twenty-five years. It had been said that he was bluffing when he went East to fight the Trust, but now people had found out that Claus Spreckels never bluffed until he was ready to call. He was determined to be a free man in a free country. When the trust attempted to compel him to come in he conceived that it was his duty to California and his men to leave his old home again and show them that as long as Claus Spreckels lived no man should down him. Uproarious cheering followed this speech, which subsided when John D. Spreckels was called upon to talk. He was almost as much affected as his father. He thanked the men, telling them that he hoped their friendship for his father would be extended to himself and brothers. He felt the great responsibility devolving upon him, but with their assistance, sympathy and co-operation he felt sure they would not fail. He trusted that all would help him to continue the business in such a manner that when their father returned he would be able to say to them all: ‘You have done well.’ The Spreckels family then retired, followed by the cheers of the assembly. Before the meeting adjourned, Mr. Watson, who accompanies Mr. Spreckels East, was presented with a handsome sugarcane stick with a silver-mounted ivory crook head, and a diamond breastpin.”