Home > ALL POSTS > Cruise History: Matson Line’s MALOLO sailed around the Pacific in October, 1929. Many millionaires aboard went from fat cats to paupers. And people ask if history repeats itself!

Cruise History: Matson Line’s MALOLO sailed around the Pacific in October, 1929. Many millionaires aboard went from fat cats to paupers. And people ask if history repeats itself!


MALOLO leaving Los Angeles – 1920s.

The SS Malolo (later known as Matsonia, Atlantic, and Queen Fredrica) was an American Cruise liner built by William Cramp & Sons, Philadelphia in 1926 for the Matson Line. She was the first of a number of ships designed by William Francis Gibbs for the Matson Line.

Films of the SS Malolo.

The Matson Line did much to develop tourism in the Hawaiian Islands. In 1927 it commissioned its largest ship yet, the Malolo (flying fish) for the First-Class luxury service between San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu. The Malolo and other Matson liners advertised superb public rooms, spacious cabins, swimming pools, a gymnasium, and a staff, including a hairdresser, to provide superlative service.

The Malolo introduced new, vastly improved safety standards which influenced all subsequent American passenger liners. On 25 May 1927 while on her sea trials in the western Atlantic, she collided with the SS Jacob Christensen, a Norwegian freighter, with an impact equal to that when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank 15 years earlier. Malolo’s advanced watertight compartments allowed her to stay afloat and sail into New York Harbor flooded with over 7,000 tons of sea water in her hull.

SS Malolo visiting Yokohama Harbor in October 1929 on “Millionaires” Cruise of the Pacific.

The Malolo sailed around the Pacific on what was called the “Millionaires” Cruise.  The ship called at ports in Asia and the South Pacific.  Ironically, the stock market crashed during the sailing.  Many went from fat cats to paupers.  As we know, history repeats itself with today’s “recession/depression.” How many “cruisers” were aboard ships last October when their portfolio sunk?


Arrival and Departure scenes of the Malolo in Fremantle, Australia on the 1929 “Millionaires” Cruise. 

Passengers celebrated leaving a major port with streamers.  Visitors came aboard.  There was champagne and parties in their staterooms.  Now when a ship sails on a cruise, there are few visitors (they can’t board because of security reasons), no farewell parties, no band playing “Now is the Hour” — basically nothing happens except the blast of the ship’s whistle.


From the San Francisco Chronicle (review):

cover.jpg“The White Ships: A Tribute to Matson’s Luxury Liners,” by Duncan O’Brien (2008, hardcover, 284 pages, $65 through the publisher): When it comes to ocean liners and San Francisco, the name Matson still evokes the romance and wonder from the golden age of pre-airline Pacific voyages. To experience Hawaii on a Matson cruise was the height of luxury travel – and in some cases the only travel – to the (then) truly exotic and foreign world of Waikiki.

In what obviously is a very personal labor of love, Duncan O’Brien has compiled a history of the “white ships” – the Malolo, Mariposa, Monterey, Lurline and Matsonia – from 1927 to 1978, told through timelines, text and, most importantly, hundreds of photographs. The book’s real strength is as a scrapbook: The writing is pretty standard, but the research is solid and the images are compelling, especially for anyone who was a passenger – or who heard the stories.

Among the gems are a photo of Hilo Hattie performing a hula on the deck of the Matsonia in 1948; an advertisement for the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco offering rooms for $3.50 per night; and several pages of celebrity passengers, including Cary Grant, Eddie Cantor and Elvis Presley on his first visit to the islands.

Over the course of 248 pages, O’Brien describes the beginnings, revels in the glory years and mourns the eventual obsolescence and death of the Matson ships. The preface makes it clear that his family spent a good amount of time on these vessels. It shows in the book.

“The White Ships” is available from

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