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Each generation of California historians has made its own unique contribution to American history. I'm in awe of my predecessors who wrote my state's sweeping and colorful histories without the internet and the open access to the archival data I now enjoy. I can't even imagine their tenacity! For me, with the technological advancements denied earlier historians, I hope to keep extending the scope and depth of California's lively history by "unearthing" the histories of neglected pioneers who deserve their due. My story telling will demonstrate how a multitude of primary sources provide a unique and fresh perspectives on historical events in California that will make readers smile.

The Sugar King of California:

The Life of Claus Spreckels

by Sandra E. Bonura, 2024

 

Who doesn't love the story of someone facing impossible odds to rise from grinding poverty to enormous wealth? America's mythos is based on the belief that anyone, regardless of circumstance, can get rich if they have enough gumption, grit, or ruthlessness. While there are a variety of published stories about the triumphs of immigrants, which seem to suggest that anyone can do great things with hard work, talent, and a little luck, I was surprised that these stories are actually rare. If America is a land of equal opportunity and upward mobility for all, why are there only a few people like him? Most underestimate how hard it is to be great at something, and then top themselves to achieve more. It was only with fierce determination and ruthless consistency that Claus Spreckels could dive into his passions to beat all his rivals on a global scale. But there's always a cost for single-minded determination, so even though it intersects with the Horatio Alger rags-to-riches legend, this is not just a story of a poor immigrant boy who chased the American Dream as far as he could take, it's a tragic portrait of a wealthy family torn apart by money, jealousy, and ego.

 

 I've struggled mightily to give you as much of the man as I could squeeze into a reasonably sized book (400 pages!). I've respected his legacy without, dare I say, sugarcoating it. Claus Spreckels is complex, a genius, and at times offensive, but I hope you'll come to appreciate the man as I eventually did.



Prairie to Prosperity: Henry Gilbert Fenton, San Diego's Beloved Pioneer IN PROGRESS during 2024

EMPIRE BUILDER: JOHN D. SPRECKLES AND THE MAKING OF SAN DIEGO

 

I smiled when I discovered this witty tale, an earlier, shorter version of which had begun circulating around the country in 1916. This version was lengthier due to the expanding enterprises of John D.  Spreckels. I amused myself by bringing it into the twenty-first century with my own amendments. when I stepped back from the little tale, however, it dawned on me that the enlarged story didn't even begin to describe the empires this man built. 

A little girl was with her father at breakfast one morning at the Hotel del Coronado. The "Spreckels" sugar packet he used to sweeten his coffee aroused her curiosity. She was then told that the profits from that sugar had purchased both the hotel and the island they were presently enjoying.Watching her father reading the San Diego Union, she asked, "Papa, whose newspaper is that?"


"This newspaper is published by Mr. Spreckels, my dear."


"Papa, I am thirsty. May I have a glass of water?"

 

"Of course. By the way, Mr. Spreckels owns the drinking water."


After breakfast, touring the city on the streetcar, the little girl asked, "Papa, whose   streetcar is this?"


"Mr. Spreckels's."


"Who owns this ferryboat, Papa?"


"Mr. Spreckels."


"Papa! Whose gigantic ship is that?"


"That's from the Spreckels steamship line."


"Papa, what theater is that?"


"That's the Spreckels Theatre."


"Papa, whose skyscraper is that?"


"It's the John D. Spreckels Building."

 

"Papa, where is that loud whistle coming from?" 


"That's Mr. Spreckels's train, my dear."


"Papa, whose huge outdoor organ is that in Balboa Park?"


"Mr. Spreckels had it built."

 

Upon returning to Coronado, the little girl looked at the ocean and said, "Papa, who owns the ocean?"

My dear, God owns the ocean." 


"Papa, tell me: How did God ever get it away from Mr. Spreckels?"