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Spark M. Matsunaga Papers

Spark Matsunaga

About Sparky Matsunaga (1916-1990)

Masayuki Matsunaga was born on the island of Kauai in 1916 to a modest farm family. Having worked his way through college and graduated in 1941, he voluntarily joined the U.S. Army. After World War II started, Matsunaga served in the famed 100th Infantry Battalion, got wounded twice, and was awarded the Bronze Star. (At that point, he legally changed his name to “Spark” Masayuki Matsunaga, taken from his childhood nickname based on a cartoon character.) He then earned a law degree from Harvard, was an assistant public prosecutor in Honolulu, and served in the Hawaiʻi Territorial Legislature from 1954 to 1959. Matsunaga’s position as House Majority Leader in the last year enabled him to play a major role in securing statehood for Hawaiʻi. From 1954 to 1963 he was also in private law practice.

In 1962 Matsunaga was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served through 1976. He was a powerful member of the influential Rules Committee; House Majority Leader Hale Boggs once quipped, “It’s getting to the point where you have to see Sparky Matsunaga to get a bill passed around here.” Using this committee experience, he co-authored the book Rulemakers of the House, published in 1976. For all of Matsunaga’s 14 years in the House he was also Deputy Majority Whip. Membership on the Agriculture Committee allowed him to be a leading force in the passage of the 1971 Sugar Act, which greatly benefited Hawaiʻi‘s sugar industry.

In 1976 Matsunaga was elected to the U.S. Senate and was Chief Deputy Whip for 12 of his 14 years there. He was instrumental in passing legislation for civil rights; reparations for Japanese Americans interned during World War II; space exploration; renewable energy resources; and peace, the last resulting in the establishment of the U.S. Institute for Peace in Washington, D.C. In 1986 his book The Mars Project: Journeys Beyond the Cold War was published. Senator Matsunaga’s vote tipped the balance in electing Senator Robert Byrd as majority leader, and thus earned him membership on the Finance Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Aside from being an accomplished harmonica player, Spark Matsunaga was an avid poet, piloting legislation that led to the creation of the U.S. Poet Laureate position at the Library of Congress. He died in 1990 at the age of 73. Shortly thereafter, the Institute for Peace at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa was renamed the Matsunaga Institute for Peace.


About the Papers

Spark Matsunaga Button

The Senator Spark M. Matsunaga Papers form a cornerstone of the Hawaiʻi Congressional Papers Collection—a major part of Hawaiʻi‘s documentary heritage—at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Library.

In 1997 Senator Matsunaga’s widow donated his papers to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. There were approximately 1200 boxes of material including documents, photographs, videos, and memorabilia from his 28 years in Congress. Also in the papers are professional and personal materials from his pre-Congressional life; especially noteworthy are documents, letters, photographs, and memorabilia from his Army service in the 100th Infantry Battalion.

Approximately 3000 books, journals, published reports, and state and federal government documents accompanied his papers. A few were kept with the papers and others were added to the library collections of UH Mānoa, other UH campuses, or academic institutions in the Pacific region.

The Papers have been processed and are open for research. Please consult the Finding Aid (PDF) for a timeline, series descriptions, and topics covered in the collection.

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