William Matson

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William Matson (October 18, 1849 - October 11, 1917) was an American shipping executive. He was the founder of Matson Navigation Company.


Wilhelm Mattson was born in Lysekil in Västra Götaland County, Sweden, and orphaned during childhood. He attended public schools in Sweden, then took an intermission of a year to go to sea at the early age of ten.


Matson came to New York in 1863 as a cabin boy at age 14. Working his way up in the maritime world, he arrived in San Francisco after a trip around Cape Horn in 1867. At the end of two years he was captain of a vessel, engaged chiefly in carrying coal to the Spreckels Sugar Company refinery. Working aboard the Spreckels family yacht, Matson struck up a friendship with tycoon Claus Spreckels, who would finance many of Matson's new ships. In 1882, Matson bought his first ship called Emma Claudina, named for Spreckels’ daughter.[1]

Matson had learned there was money to be made carrying sugar from the Hawaiian Islands. In 1882 the Emma Claudina ran to the Hawaiian Islands. The enterprise began in the carrying of merchandise, especially of plantation stores, to the islands and returning with cargoes of sugar. This led to gradually expanding interests at both ends of the line, which kept pace with the commercial development of the country. In 1887, Matson sold the Emma Claudina and acquired the brigantine Lurline, which more than doubled the former vessel's carrying capacity. Soon he had three vessels running.[2]

Increased commerce brought a corresponding interest in Hawaii as a tourist attraction. The 146-passenger ship S.S. Wilhelmina followed in 1910. More steamships continued to join the fleet. When Matson died in 1917 at 67, the Matson fleet comprised 14 of the largest, fastest and most modern ships in the Pacific passenger-freight service.[3][4]

In addition to serving as president of the Matson Navigation Co., Matson was president of Honolulu Consolidated Oil Co., Commercial Petroleum Co., Atlas Wonder Mining Co., Wonder Waler Co. Additionally he served as a director of the National Ice Co., Honolulu Plantation Co., Paauhau Sugar Plantation Co., and Hakalau Plantation Co.. One of the high honors conferred upon Matson was his appointment as Consul of Sweden, giving him jurisdiction over the Pacific Coast of the United States.[5]

Personal life[edit]

Matson met Lillie Low in 1888 when she was traveling on the Lurline to Hilo to teach in a missionary school. They married in May a year later in Hawaii. One daughter was born in September 1890, and named Lurline Berenice Matson for the legendary Rhine river siren Loreley, in remembrance of the ship in which her parents met.[6]


  1. ^ William Matson. 1849-1917 (Cypress Lawn Memorial Park)
  2. ^ Capt. William Matson (by Bob Krauss. “The Honolulu Advertiser” July 2, 2006) [1]
  3. ^ From Sail to Steam. History of the Matson Fleet (Matson Navigation Company ) [2]
  4. ^ Matson's History (Alexander & Baldwin, Inc.)
  5. ^ Captain William Matson ("Journalism In California" by John P. Young. Chronicle Publishing Company San Francisco, California, 1915) [3]
  6. ^ William Matson & Lillie Low Matson (Filoli Center. National Trust for Historic Preservation) [4]

Primary source[edit]

  • Capt. William Matson (Press Reference Library. Southwest Edition: Being the Portraits and Biographies of Progressive Men of the South-West. "Los Angeles Examiner", Los Angeles: 1912) [5]

Other sources[edit]

  • Cushing, John E. Captain William Matson: From Handy Boy to Ship Owner (Newcomen Society in North America. New York : 1951)
  • Benson Adolph B.; Hedin, Naboth Swedes In America (Yale University Press; 1938)

External links[edit]