by Chris Cook
Germans explored Hawai'i in early days of western contact, developing shipping, sugar plantations and factories. As scholars and artists, and as settlers who married into Hawaiian families, Germans also contribute to the multicultural fabric of life in Hawai'i.
Heinrich Zimmerman sailed with Captain James Cook, who discovered Hawai'i for the West in 1778. Zimmerman published his own journals three years before Captain Cook's official English version was released. Zimmerman's tales of Hawai'i sparked an interest in the distant Sandwich Isles among the German people.
In another first for Germany, an anonymous author, publishing out of Leipzig, produced the first book noting Cook's 1779 death at Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island.
In 1796, a ship grounding led to a German name being given to a geographical location in Hawai'i. German ship captain Henry Barber ran aground near a Hawaiian village known as Kalaeloa (the long cape) on O'ahu. Barber from Bremen, Germany, was sailing an English ship and the site is now called Barber's Point.
A German scholar who took an early interest in Hawai'i was Adelbert von Chamisso, a naturalist aboard the Russian brig Rurik, which Captain Otto von Kotzebue sailed to Hawai'i in 1815. Von Chamisso, one of the first western scholars interested in the Hawaiian language, wrote one of the first Hawaiian grammar books.
A notorious German who sailed to Hawai'i was Anton Georg Scheffer. Representing the Russian-American Company of Alaska, Scheffer arrived on Kaua'i in 1815 to recover the cargo of a Russian trading ship wrecked at Waimea. In cahoots with Kaumuali'i, Kaua'i's last king, Scheffer attempted to take over Hawai'i. He built the Russian Fort, now an historic site and visitor destination in Waimea, Kaua'i, and attempted to establish a village called Schefferthal along with another Russian Fort on the North Shore of Kaua'i at Princeville. Under Kamehameha's orders, however, Scheffer was forced off Kaua'i and away from Hawai'i by 1818.
The discipline, leadership, and technical skills of Hawai'i's 19th Century German immigrants played an important role in the growth of the Islands' sugar industry. The Germans were builders and tool and dye makers who constructed sugar mills. They also served as lunas (bosses) who managed and controlled the field workers. Several Germans were visionary sugar growers who brought the industry to a prosperous maturity.
Agriculturist Paul Isenberg was born in Dransfeld, Germany, the son of a Lutheran minister. Recruited to work as a luna at Lihu'e Plantation on Kaua'i in the late 1850s, he married Hannah Maria Rice, daughter of missionary-turned sugar-plantation owner William Harrison Rice. Isenberg became manager of Lihu'e Plantation in 1862. His wife died in 1867 and he started traveling between Germany and Kaua'i. Along with his brothers Hans, Otto, and Carl, Isenberg played a prominent role in developing sugar plantations on Kaua'i's west side. The family's German heritage is best remembered at Lihue's German Hill, just west of the sugar mill. This area recalls a time when Lihu'e was known as German Town. The prim, white, oldest Lutheran Church in Hawai'i was built in the 1880s and still stands on German Hill, which once boasted its own German language school.
In 1881, Isenberg and Captain Heinrich Hackfeld became partners, forming what would become American Factors, one of Hawai'i's "Big Five" companies that owned sugar plantations, shipping and other entities, including the department stores throughout Hawai`i that are now called Liberty House.
However, with the company's ties to Germany, the Isenbergs and Hackfields lost control of their company during World War I.
Hackfield was an adventurer born in Dalmenhorst, in Oldenberg, Germany. He was a sea captain on the China run when he sailed into Honolulu Harbor for provisions. By 1850 he had been in Hawai'i three times. His third visit was aboard the ship of John Dominis, the father of John Dominis, Jr., the husband of Queen Liliu'okalani. Hackfeld returned home and loaded cargo for Honolulu aboard his own merchant ship. He sailed back to Hawai'i and made his fortune, soon becoming a "facto" or business agent for sugar growers.
Hackfeld's brother-in-law was another German, Johann Carl Pflueger, who arrived in Hawai'i at the age of 16. Through living a highly disciplined life, young Pflueger quickly advanced in business in Honolulu. Hackfeld and Pflueger both became close friends of the Hawaiian monarchy. Pflueger's descendants own the Honolulu automobile agency of the same name.
Dr. Wilhelm Hillebrand, a German researcher, played an important role in public health. He was the founding physician of Queen's Hospital in Honolulu during the 1860s. He also played an important role in selecting the workers who would be imported to Hawai`i's sugar plantations.
Hillebrand traveled on a German expedition to the Madeira Islands in 1871. His letters back to Hawai'i suggested importing workers from the rocky Atlantic Islands where the grape orchards were suffering from a blight. By the end of the decade thousands of the people now known as Hawai'i's Portuguese had arrived to work on the sugar plantations, thanks to a tip from this German scientist.
Hillebrand also suggested importing German workers. In 1881, a band of 124 Germans aboard the ship Cedar sailed to Hawai'i, and about half stayed past the expiration of their work contracts. The new German immigrants rose quickly from the ranks of sugar workers, becoming lunas, machinists, engineers and managers. Later they moved to towns and became tradesmen, teachers, lawyers, clerks and took up other white collar professions.
The efforts of the early Germans are clearly displayed in the restoration and exhibits at the Rudolph Wilhem Meyer Sugar Mill on the island of Moloka'i. Meyer married a Hawaiian woman, Kalama Waha, of Mapulehu Valley, and established a sugar mill in 1878 in the foothills of Kala'e where rainfall is abundant. Meyer diversified into coffee, fruit and vegetable growing.
The farm is a good example of the life of an entrepreneurial German horticulturalist in Hawai'i. Many of them married Hawaiians and it is not uncommon in the Islands to meet Polynesian-looking people with German names like Meyer, Brandt, Smith and Hanneman. The R.W. Meyer Sugar Mill is open to the public, featuring antique, circular cane crushers that were driven by oxen. It is listed on the Historic American Engineering Record and the National Register of Historic Places. It is the site of Hawaiian festivals on the island of Moloka'i and has grown to include the Moloka'i Museum and Cultural Center.
A wealthier and more famous German fortune seeker in Hawai'i was Claus Spreckles, a California sugar refiner, who found his business greatly threatened by the Kingdom of Hawai'i's reciprocity treaty with the United States signed in 1876. The treaty allowed Hawaiian sugar to come into the U.S. duty free and cut Spreckles' profits. Rather than fight the treaty, Spreckles sailed to Hawai'i aboard the City of San Francisco immediately and purchased half of the sugar crop of 1877 just before its value skyrocketed. Between 1878 and 1882 the sugar baron enhanced his Hawai'i fortunes with the outright purchase of 41,000 acres in and around Wailuku, Maui. East of Wailuku he built Spreckelsville and constructed a $4 million sugar mill, creating the world's most modern, efficient, and biggest sugar factory.
His innovations set the direction for Hawai'i's sugar planters and included steam plows, electric lights, railroads for hauling cane, and controllable irrigation. In the 1880s Spreckles almost took control of Hawai'i. He owned the Oceanic Steamship Company, which carried sugar to his refifinery at San Francisco. King Kalakaua was personally in debt to him. Spreckles even minted Hawaiian money in 1883. All this put the Hawaiian Kingdom in deep obligation to the German business baron, Claus Speckles, and the Hawaiians named him Ona Miliona, or "One Million," nicknaming him for his wealth. The newspapers referred to him as "His Majesty Spreckles."
Eventually Spreckles was outwitted by King Kalakaua and his control of Hawai'i dissipated, while his name stuck on his Maui town. Isenberg Tract in Lihue, Sprecklesville in Maui, and Spreckles Street, Widemann Street, Hausten Street, and Hamm Place in Honolulu, all signify the heritage of Germans in Hawai'i.
In more cultural contributions, Captain Henrich Berger of Berlin is well remembered in for his 43 years conducting the Royal Hawaiian Band. He was called "The Father of Hawaiian Music" by Liliu'okalani. Berger introduced musical forms to Hawai'i He arranged compositions written by Kalakaua and other Hawaiian royalty.
Berger sparked Hawaiian tourism by playing concerts at the Honolulu docks on boat days when island visitors arrived on coast steamers. Word of his musicpopularized Hawai'i as a vacation spot. He earned a gold medal from German Emperor William II for his music in Hawai'i.
In visiual arts, Germans have painted and drawn Hawai'i for many years. Encounters with Paradise, published by the University of Hawai'i Press and Honolulu Academy of Arts, describes Bavarian newspaper artist Henry Nappenbach, who visited Hawai'i in 1898. His watercolor sketches are some of the few pre-Twentieth Century genre scenes of Honolulu's Chinatown. Landscape painter Henry Otto Wix is famous for Kaua'i and O'ahu landscapes, from 1900 - 1910. A guest of the Isenberg family on Kaua'i, he was one of the earliest artists to paint Waimea Canyon.
As featured in this magazine, Jurgen Wilms (Islander Magazine, April 1996) has brought the Karlsruhe Academe of Fine Arts influence to painting Hawaiian landscape, and German-born Melitta Hodson, whose paintings grace the covers of this magazine, focuses on Hawaiian flora and fauna.