The Sugar Daddies: The Spreckels Family Feud

The Original Sugar Daddies

Claus Spreckels was the father of the original “sugar daddy.” Still used today, “sugar daddy” is a slang term for a man romantically involved with a significantly younger woman and financially supports her.

The original sugar daddy was Spreckels’ eldest son, Adolph Bernard Spreckels. When his father started the company in 1899, the junior Spreckels served as vice president. After the senior’s death, Adolph Spreckels became president and married Alma de Bretteville (right picture), younger than him by twenty-four years. Because of his senior position at a major sugar manufacturer, wealth, and their large age difference, she called Spreckels her sugar daddy.

As for Claus Spreckels, he acted as a sugar daddy in another sense: from his sweet fortune, he gave over $25 million in gifts to his five grown children. Whether they appreciated them or not, they sued their father for more.

Rudolph and Claus A. Spreckels (junior)

In 1894, Rudolph Spreckels sued his father Claus Spreckels and brother Claus A. Spreckels over shares of Paauhau Plantation Company stock. In the same year, son Claus August Spreckels sued his father Claus Spreckels and brothers over shares of Hawaiian and Commercial Sugar Company stock (H & C Sugar today). While hundreds of sugar plantation laborers did back-breaking work under the sun all day six days a week for a few dollars a month, Claus A. claimed he should have received more shares when he managed the company. However, both parties eventually reached a settlement, and Claus A. cancelled the lawsuit in March 1895.

“The Ungrateful Son”
However, not even two months passed before Claus A. Spreckels sued his father again, this time for slander in San Francisco in May 1895. The elder Spreckels was accused of saying the following to the Examiner, which it published:

“I gave that boy $24,000 a year in Philadelphia. Then he drew out $250,000 of my money. I will tell the whole story one of these days. Then the public will see these sons in their true light.”
“He will soon be bankrupt.”
“He has wasted money.”
“I will show people how those boys will die in the gutter.”
The senior Spreckels (left picture) also allegedly implied that the younger was blackmailing the elder Spreckels’ Oceanic Steamship Company by suing it.
The son claimed these statements hurt his credibility as “a merchant and capitalist.”

More so than the newspapers in Hawaii, The San Francisco Call editorialized the younger Spreckel’s motive:

“Another attempt is made to annoy and harrass Claus Spreckels.”
“The ungrateful son tries in vain to secure material for his suit.”

“It was apparent that in reiterating his rasping and tautological questions Attoney Ach was following the instructions of his ungrateful and impudent young client.”

The San Francisco Call portrayed the elder Spreckels as the victim:

It was a trying ordeal for a man of the venerable appearance and personal worth of Claus Spreckels to be submitted to indignities and affronts at the hands of his own erring son; yet he sustained the burden with the dignified bearing of a philosopher. He seemed to contemplate the proceedings more in sorrow than in anger.

The San Francisco Call described the demeanor of the younger’s attorney in court:
It was apparent that in reiterating his rapsing and tautological questions Attorney Ach was following the instructions of his ungrateful and impudent young client.
The Favorite Child

Claus Spreckels gifted his only daughter Mrs. Emma Claudina Spreckels Watson a block of Honolulu property: “the entire city block bounded by Fort, Queen, Alakea and Merchant streets, excepting only the lots whereon are standing the Stangenwald, Judd and Mutual Telephone Co. buildings” (the area behind the First Hawaiian Bank building today). In all, Claus established an endowment for her with assets totaling to almost two million dollars.

But even Claus’ favorite child wouldn’t stay his favorite forever when she married Thomas Watson, an Englishman “many years her senior,” a grain broker, and an “intimate” family friend. The Watson did not inform her parents about the wedding until Emma sent a telegraph afterwards, asking for forgiveness.

Angered, Claus would not approve, and she became estranged from her father. He taunted her about the gift, or as The San Francisco Call called it, “The gift she threw back in her aged father’s face when he renounced her for marrying Watson of San Jose.” But later, she sued to get it back, arguing that a Hawaii real estate law made a third of that property her husband’s.

Ultimately, Claus persevered. Because of his friends in high places in San Francisco, the Watsons fled San Francisco to London. But Mr. Watson died, Emma reconciled with her father, moved back to San Francisco, and lived in a mansion on Van Ness Avenue, which Claus built for her.

After the Sugar Daddy’s Death

After Claus Spreckels’ death in 1908, his sons–all multimillionaires–fought for his fortunes, including the Spreckels Estate on Punahou St. And because of their fame in Hawaii and California, newspapers followed the lawsuits.

John Diedrich and Adolph Spreckels sued Rudolph and Claus A., the executors of Claus Spreckel’s will, in California in 1910. Their attorneys argued whether the gifts Claus Spreckels gave to the former pair were an advancements of their inheritance. The judge ruled in their favor, declaring that the gifts were not advancements, and this decision cost Rudolph Spreckels more than a million dollars.

Two years later in 1912, Rudolph and Claus A. filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court, but lost:

… bulk of the [$10,000,000] property not given … [to Claus Spreckels’ late] widow … shall go to Rudolph and [C. A.] Spreckels, sons and executors of the will, and Mrs. Emma Ferris, the only daughter. Under the will no provision was made for John D. Spreckels and [Adolph] B. Spreckels.

The family wasn’t the only source of legal wrangles: the Spreckels fought lawsuits outside the family in the next decade. For example, Claus A. Spreckels made “startling accusations” against the Food Drug Administration, and the head, Herbert Hoover, filed an anti-trust dissolution suit against him in 1914. Hoover, the future U.S. president, accused Spreckels of artificially creating a sugar shortage in the United States, fixing sugar prices, and bearing a grudge against the FDA. However, Spreckels claimed he fought against the price fixing by the refineries.

– Alice Kim

Articles from Chronicling America

“Late News from Abroad: The Troubles in the Spreckels Family Is Ended”
The Hawaiian gazette, January 23, 1894, Page 6

“The Spreckels Slander Suit: C. A. Spreckels Says that His Brother Influenced His Father”
Pacific commercial advertiser, April 26, 1895, Image 1

“Son Against Father: Another Attempt Is Made to Annoy and Harrass Claus Spreckels”
The San Francisco call, May 7, 1895, Page 14

“To the Fatherland” (slander suit)
The San Francisco call, May 18, 1895, Page 14

“Row in the Spreckels Family: Suit Between Rudolph Spreckels and His Father”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, March 16, 1895, Image 1

“They Quietly Married: Miss. Emma C. Spreckels Wedded to Thomas Watson”
The Hawaiian star, January 14, 1897, Image 1

“Great Lawsuit to Dispossess Claus Spreckels”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, July 15, 1903, Image 1

“Great Lawsuit to Dispossess Claus Spreckels”
The Hawaiian gazette, July 17, 1903, Page 2

“Troubles in Speckels Family Much Regretted by Friends”
Evening bulletin, October 17, 1903, Page 10

“Claus Spreckels Also Very Ill”
The Hawaiian star, August 3, 1904, Image 1

“Claus Spreckels and Sons”
Pacific commercial advertiser, August 21, 1905, Page 4

“Is Spreckels Making a Will?”
The Hawaiian gazette, October 18, 1907, Image 1

“File Demurrer in Support of Equity Rights”
The San Francisco call, May 18, 1909, Page 1

“Dirty Case to Bolster Themselves”
The San Francisco call, September 5, 1909, Page 24

“Spreckels Will Sole Evidence of Two Heirs”
The San Francisco call, June 4, 1910, Page 18

“J. D. and A. B. Spreckels to Share Father’s Estate”
The San Francisco call, October 5, 1910, Page 3

“Court Decision on Estate of Claus Spreckels Costs Rudoph More than Million”
Evening bulletin, October 12, 1910, Image 1

“Holds Void Spreckels Trust”
The San Francisco call, February 16, 1910, Page 1

“Another Spreckels Quarrel On”
Evening bulletin, January 3, 1912, Page 3

“Spreckels Case in New Appeal”
The Hawaiian star, June 7, 1912, Page 6

“Argument Closes in Spreckels Suit”
The San Francisco call, October 18, 1912, Image 20

“Spreckels Will Hit Hard”
Honolulu star-bulletin, January 9, 1913, Image 1

“Court Sustains Spreckels Will”
The San Francisco call, June 14, 1913, Page 3

“Shortage of Sugar Explained”
The daily Gate City and constitution-Democrat., December 15, 1917, Image 1

“Says Spreckels Bears a Grudge”
The Daily Missoulian, December 16, 1917, Page 10