Claus Spreckels was the industrialist who chose Watsonville to start his domestic sugar empire. If you look at the Watsonville city seal, you don’t see berries or apples, but a sheaf of wheat and a sugar beet!
During the 1880’s, sugar crops were making their debut on the national agricultural scene due to trade pressures to have a domestic source. At the time most sugar consumed in America was coming from the tropics and Cuba. This reliance on foreign sources was cause for concern.
Enterprising men were inspired to create a domestic sugar supply, and to build the plants that would process it. Claus Spreckels was one such entrepreneur. Spreckels was born in Germany and made his way to America at age 19. After working his way up from a stock boy in Charleston, South Carolina to own a grocery store in San Francisco, he set his sights on other industries. After successfully investing in the Albany Brewery, a steam beer brewery in San Francisco, he began to invest in sugar production.
Early in his career, Spreckels’ business took him to Hawaii to buy sugar cane. He was able to buy the sugar crops of Hawaii and process sugar for the US market. However the same hubris that drove his successes in business cost him his business in Hawaii. At a card game with King Kalakaua, Claus said his hand of three Kings was the winning hand, because he himself was the fourth King! The Hawaiian King was not amused.
He returned to the mainland and began researching the possibility of processing sugar from beets there, as he had observed in Europe. Thus began the brief but passionate romance between Claus and Watsonville.
—Jody Biergiel Colclough