The Matson firm was founded by Swedish immigrant William Matson in 1882. Coming to San Francisco, he sailed the bay and rivers, becoming acquainted with the wealthy Spreckels family, who asked him to skipper their family yacht, Lurline. The Spreckels helped Matson finance his first ship, the Emma Claudina, which made its premiere passage to Hawai’i in 1881. The Islands were producing one hundred thousand tons of sugar annually, and reliable shipping was essential. Matson hauled sugar to California, returning with cargo, machinery, and building materials to help fuel the growth of Hawai’i.

Matson Line Lurline Ship

The innovation of safe, comfortable passage to Hawai’i sparked the first boom in travel to the South Pacific in 1910, and William Matson died with fourteen ships in his fleet and a near-monopoly on Pacific trade and passenger travel.
The firm was taken over by William Phillip Roth, the husband of Matson’s daughter Lurline. With business booming, the company ordered three glamorous new sister ships between 1930 and 1932—the Mariposa, Monterey, and Lurline.
The Matson firm was founded by Swedish immigrant William

The Lurline was a beauty, gleaming white and sleek of hull. She was 632 feet long, built for style and speed, accommodating 475 first-class passengers and 240 surfer-class passengers with a crew of 359. She began regular service to Honolulu in 1934.

Amelia Earhart became the first to fly from California to Hawai’i, in 1935. The following year, a Martin M-130 flying boat called the Hawaii Clipper made its premiere commercial flight from San Francisco to Honolulu. The plane boasted private compartments, sleeping berths, and gourmet dining, and the seven customers paid $360 each way for what must have been a sketchy twenty-one-hour thirty-three-minute flight. But why bother, when you could take the Lurline instead?

In 1935, Earhart was one of many celebrities who cooled their heels in the Islands. During the 1930s, a Hawai’ian voyage aboard the Lurline was chic, and the likes of William Powell, Carole Lombard, Jimmy Durante, Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy, Joel McCrea, Frances Dee, and Shirley Temple all made the trip, hanging out on the beach—often to be photographed with Duke Kahanamoku, Hawai’i’s official greeter for several decades.
By 1941, Pan Am’s California Clipper and five other Boeing B-314s were taking seventy-four passengers each on daily flights to Honolulu. But Lurline was still the queen of the Hawai’i run.

During World War II, the Lurline and other Matson ships served the country, carrying some 750,000 troops around the Pacific.
After the war, Matson sold the Mariposa and Monterey but kept the Lurline, which returned to service in 1948 after a twenty-million-dollar makeover. Matson continued to expand its operations and in 1951, built the Surfrider Hotel on Waikiki beach. Now Lurline passengers had a destination of the same luxurious class.

Postwar, the Douglas DC-4 became the plane of choice for crossing the big water, yet despite increasing competition, the Lurline was still operating at 97 percent capacity in 1955. In 1958, the Boeing 707 opened Hawai’i to international travel and in 1959, statehood brought a construction boom that saw the swamps of Waikiki disappear under a concrete jungle.

Statehood and jet service to the Islands spelled doom for Matson and the Lurline. In 1963, the ship suffered massive damage to its turbine engines, and repair costs forced Matson to lay up the original Lurline and pass her name on to the Matsonia.

Passenger cruises to Hawaii struggled along until 1970, when Matson announced it was selling its flagship Lurline to Greek shipping operators. On June 25, 1970, Lurline arrived in San Francisco for the last time under the Matson flag. There was a bon voyage party, but it was not a happy farewell.