Joseph Ballard Atherton

Joseph Ballard Atherton (1837–1903) was a prominent Honolulu businessman, a former president of Castle & Cooke. He was the founder of the Honolulu YMCA.

Joseph Ballard Atherton
Joseph Ballard Atherton
Born(1837-11-09)November 9, 1837
Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts
DiedApril 7, 1903(1903-04-07) (aged 65)
Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii
Occupationbusinessman, philanthropist
Spouse(s)Juliette Montague Cooke

Early years

Born in 1837 in Boston, Massachusetts. His early education was received at public schools, graduating from the Brimmer School, going onto the high school. Among his school mates in the early days of his life was Peter Cushman Jones.

After high school he entered the wholesale commission house of A. H. Almden, where he remained for several years. He advanced within the company and was respected by his employers, to the extent that in 1858 his failing health made it necessary for him to leave Boston, he was equipped with letters of introduction and given full assistance in making the journey to the Hawaiian Islands.

He chose this far away destination upon the advice of former school friends and acquaintances, and he made the journey with the best prospects for success, though he initially knew very little of the conditions of trade, or of the soil. His friend Peter Cushman Jones had arrived in Honolulu only the year previously.

In December 1858 he sailed to Honolulu, Hawaii, on a long ocean voyage, via Cape Horn on the Syren, a well known Boston packet, seeking to improve his health.


Shortly after his arrival in Honolulu (with letters of introduction to Samuel Northrup Castle and others), he took a job as a bookkeeper at Castle & Cooke, a sugar cane producer.

However within a few years he would soon be considered as one of the best informed men on the islands as to the resources of trade and the capacity of soil.

In 1865, he was named a junior partner, and in 1894 he became senior member in the firm; and then its president. At this time he was one of the most successful sugar planters.

Castle & Cooke during his tenure, was one of the Big Five (Hawaii), known in Hawaiian as Nā Hui Nui ʻElima. These sugarcane processing corporations wielded considerable political power in the Territory of Hawaii and leaned heavily towards the Hawaii Republican Party. He remained as president of Castle & Cooke right up until his death in 1903.

He was President of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association, as well as for many years being the President of the Honolulu Chamber of Commerce. He was a leading and influential member of the Fort Street Church, Honolulu, later the Central Union Church.

Other business interests

In 1893, together with his brother-in-law Charles Montague Cooke (1849–1909) and business partner Peter Cushman Jones, he founded the Bank of Hawaii, the second bank to be established in the Hawaiian Islands.

In 1897, the Bank of Hawaii was chartered in the Republic of Hawaii by Interior Minister James A. King. A decade after its founding, in 1903, the bank opened its first branch in Kauai.

He served as a director or trustee for many prominent organizations and boards in Hawaii. He was one of the founders of the Mutual Telephone Company. His judgement was instrumental to the success of the enterprises in which he took part. He was a director of various other business enterprises throughout the Hawaiian Islands.

He founded the newspaper Hawaiian Star of Honolulu in 1893; which nine years after his death was merged with the Evening Bulletin to become the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Political views

He was always in favour of the Republican Government in Hawaii, however while the Hawaiian Monarchy was an institution he was a firm and loyal supporter.

During his final years, he witnessed the transfer of sovereignty over the Hawaiian islands, which took place in 1898 watching the lowering of the Flag of Hawaii and the hoisting of the "Stars and Stripes", the flag of the United States over the former royal Iolani Palace in its place. It was renamed from the Republic of Hawaii to the Territory of Hawaii, which was formally organized as an organized incorporated territory of the United States two years later.

Personal life

After five years on the islands, he became engaged to Juliette Montague Cooke (1843–1921), the daughter of Amos Starr Cooke. Shortly afterwards Juliette left to the United States for a year long visit. Upon her return they married on August 21, 1843.

He had six children:

  • Benjamin Hawley Atherton (1871–1878), who died at an early age.
  • Charles H. Atherton who later assumed the full business responsibilities of his father.
  • Frank Cooke Atherton (1877–1945) who began his career at the Bank of Hawaii, was later the director of Hawaiian Electric Co. . His son, J. Ballard Atherton, was president of Hawaiian Telephone Company.
  • Dr Alexander Montague Atherton who went on to work at his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University. Doctor of Medicine. A.R., Wesleyan 1897, Resident Physician Charity Hospital, Blackwell’s Island, NY 1901–1902, and then as a Physician in Honolulu.
  • Mary Atherton who married Theodore Richards
  • Kate Marion Atherton (1879–1919)


He died in Honolulu on April 7, 1903 and was buried at Kawaiahaʻo Church Cemetery, Honolulu. His death, reportedly after suffering from a long lingering illness was reported on the front cover of The Honolulu Advertiser, of April 8, 1903, and a full obituary was featured on page 7, of the same newspaper. Such was his prominence in the city of Honolulu, that there was a universal closing of business establishments, as a mark of respect to him. He was survived by many grandchildren.

Out of a total of 8 siblings, he was only survived by his sister Sarah Atherton Gilman, who also relocated to Honolulu years earlier and was the mother of Joseph A. Gilman and Carrie A Gilman. This niece and nephew were with him at the last.


He was educated as a Baptist. Within a short period from his arrival in Honolulu, religious circles began to feel his active influence. He founded the Young Men’s Christian Association in Honolulu and for many years served as one of its directors, and then as its president. He was an honored member of the Hawaiian Board of Missions, several times being its president.

For many years he was a Member if the Board of Trustees of Oahu College. Up to the time of death he was a member of the Board of Trustees of Kawaiahaʻo Female Seminary which was founded in 1864.


  • "Atherton Branch | YMCA of Honolulu | Honolulu, Hawai'i |". Retrieved 17 December 2019.
  • Nellist, George F. "The Story of Hawaii and Its Builders. Published by Honolulu Star Bulletin, Ltd., Territory of Hawaii, 1925". USGenWeb Archives. Retrieved 17 December 2019.
  • "Historic Partnership Builds on YMCA Atherton's History". University of Hawai‘i Foundation. Retrieved 17 December 2019.
  • "Home – Atherton YMCA Student Housing". ATHERTON YMCA | O'AHU, HAWAII. Retrieved 17 December 2019.
  • "Our History". YWCA O‘ahu. Retrieved 17 December 2019.

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