Claus Spreckels: The sugar king
Claus Spreckels, a crusty, obstinate and ruggedly individualistic German immigrant, made his fortune later in life than most moguls. "After sixty years of toil and accomplishment as few men are capable of, he is possessed of many millions of dollars -- no one but himself can tell or even closely estimate how many," gushed Harper's Weekly in 1891. Spreckels owned refineries, sugar cane plantations in Hawaii, steamships, utilities, railroads and many other business enterprises. He was secretive, dictatorial, with a granitelike disposition, a man "willing to fleece a brother capitalist or fellow club members as to skin the public." Even his own sons, John, Adolph, Gus and Rudolph, were not immune from his steely and hardheaded approach to business. Arriving in New York in 1830 fresh from Hanover, Spreckels worked in the grocery business, ultimately becoming a proprietor of a small store on Church Street. He was not a spendthrift, hoarding his hard-earned money with Prussian determination. And he had a touch of wanderlust.