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Sugahara (Kay) papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
  • Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use
  • Preferred Citation
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Custodial History
  • Processing Information
  • UCLA Catalog Record ID
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Scope and Contents
  • Arrangement
  • Related Materials

  • Contributing Institution: UCLA Library Special Collections
    Title: Kay Sugahara papers
    Identifier/Call Number: LSC.2354
    Physical Description: 86.8 Linear Feet (172 boxes, 23 flat boxes, 8 oversize flat boxes, and 5 shoe boxes)
    Date (inclusive): 1915-2014
    Abstract: Kay Sugahara, a millionaire by the age of 29, was sometimes referred to as the "Nisei Onassis" by other second generation Japanese Americans. He was imprisoned in two West Coast camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor, yet managed to free himself through his recruitment into the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner to the Central Intelligence Agency. After working for the OSS during the war, Sugahara fought to improve relations between the U.S. and Japan, build Asian American communities on a local and national scale, and as Fairfield-Maxwell Ltd. Chairman, he became a millionaire once again by making tankers in Japan for U.S. oil companies. The collection contains Sugahara's business, trip, and personal files.
    Physical Location: Stored off-site. All requests to access special collections material must be made in advance using the request button located on this page.
    Language of Material: Materials are primarily in English, some materials in Japanese.

    Conditions Governing Access

    Open for research. All requests to access special collections materials must be made in advance using the request button located on this page.

    Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

    CONTAINS AUDIO AND AUDIOVISUAL MATERIALS: This collection contains both processed and unprocessed audio and audiovisual materials. For information about the access status of the material that you are looking for, refer to the Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements note at the series and file levels. All requests to access processed audio and audiovisual materials must be made in advance using the request button located on this page.

    Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

    Property rights to the physical objects belong to UCLA Library Special Collections. All other rights, including copyright, are retained by the creators and their heirs. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where The UC Regents do not hold the copyright.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Kay Sugahara papers (Collection 2354). UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    Fairfied-Maxwell, Ltd. by Anthony J. Dowd; Gift; 2017.

    Custodial History

    The date span of materials within this collection extends before the birth of Kay Sugahara and beyond his death date because his colleagues at Fairfield-Maxwell, Ltd. and his family members added items.

    Processing Information

    Processed by Kelly Besser, 2018. In addition to the use of Kay Sugahara's writing for the Biographical note, I retained file names and description provided by the donor's inventory of the collection.
    Collections are processed to a variety of levels depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived user interest and research value, availability of staff and resources, and competing priorities. Library Special Collections provides a standard level of preservation and access for all collections and, when time and resources permit, conducts more intensive processing. These materials have been arranged and described according to national and local standards and best practices.
    We are committed to providing ethical, inclusive, and anti-racist description of the materials we steward, and to remediating existing description of our materials that contains language that may be offensive or cause harm. We invite you to submit feedback about how our collections are described, and how they could be described more accurately, by filling out the form located on our website: Report Potentially Offensive Description in Library Special Collections.  

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 9985427553606533 

    Biographical / Historical

    Kay Sugahara, born in Seattle, Washington on March 18, 1909, was sometimes referred to as the "Nisei Onassis" by other second generation Japanese Americans. His father Kei Sugahara, the 10th son of a Sendai Samurai was born in Japan and immigrated to the U.S. between 1900 and 1905. His mother Taki Sugahara was born Shimane Ken. His family moved to Los Angeles between 1912 and 1913, where Kay attended public schools. Both parents died by the time he was 13.
    After Sugahara graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1932 with a degree in economics and political science, he opened his own firm, Universal Foreign Service Company, and served as president or director of most of the Japanese American organizations in Los Angeles. While president of the Japanese American Citizens League, Los Angeles Chapter, the membership created and promoted the Nisei Festival which revitalized the Little Tokyo neighborhood. After much resistance, he became the first Japanese American customs broker in mainland U.S.A., and at 29 he became a millionaire.
    After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Sugahara and his family were forcibly removed from the West Coast along with all persons of Japanese ancestry. They were held for a time in horse stables at the Santa Anita Racetrack and then sent to Granada (Camp Amache) in Colorado. In 1942 Sugahara joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which would later become the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Sugahara reported to experts on Japan, the Honorable Joseph Grew and Eugene Dooman to help shape post-War Japanese policies. He was influenced by Commanding Officer, General William Donovan, to focus his energies on strategic decisions in business.
    After the war, Sugahara organized the American Council for Japan at the request of the U.S. State Department, in order to reorient U.S. opinion towards Japan and reduce public hostility so trade relations could develop. His office was used as the main headquarters where his personnel worked. American Council for Japan members talked with every U.S. mission going to Japan to influence a shift from punitive peace terms to a viable situation so Japan could grow economically.
    During the Korean War, Sugahara headed a confidential U.S. procurement mission to Japan to purchase strategic materials during the Korean War. He also arranged barter in 1956 between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Japanese titanium producers for $30 million each way. This arrangement was supported by Senator William Knowland of California, Senate Minority Leader, and the White House.
    In 1957 he worked with Mobil Oil and changed the closed market system of the Seven Sisters on oil so that domestic Japanese refineries could receive "equal access." Finally, Sugahara served as Chairman of the Board of Fairfield-Maxwell Ltd. (FML), a company founded on May 23, 1957, to broker sales between Mobil Oil and Japanese-owned refineries. FML soon expanded into other maritime-related activities such as the building, sale and leasing of tankers and general cargo shipping, beginning with the launch of the Marion in 1960. Between 1969 and 1972 he worked to break the secret prohibition against chartering Asian tankers. Between 1977 and 1978 as Chairman of American Mercantile Company, he financed a campaign for "open access" for U.S. agricultural products to Japan markets. In 1978, FML launched Great American Lines to operate the Sunbelt Dixie, a first-of-its-kind refrigerated car-carrier that brought Toyota automobiles to the U.S. and was able to return to Japan with Florida grapefruit.
    In 1981 Sugahara was asked to become chairman of the U.S. Asian Institute and articulate the political and economic aspirations of five million U.S. Asians. On September 25, 1988, Kay Sugahara passed away at his home in the New York suburb of Pelham Manor, at the age of 79. He was survived by his wife Yone and his sons, Kaytaro, Bryan and Byron. In 2002, Yone passed away and is now interred with Kay at Arlington National Cemetery.
    This note was created from Kay Sugahara's 1988 September 23 Curriculum Vitae and his 1982 March 28 Profile on Kay Sugahara.

    Scope and Contents

    This collection spans 1915 to 2014 and contains Kay Sugahara's business, trip, and personal files. The business files document his activities at Fairfield-Maxwell Ltd. (FML), the Dooman Group, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the American Council on Japan, the American Mercantile Company (AMC), the US-Asia Institute (USIA), and associated activities. The trip files document his travels related to FML, USIA, conferences, speeches, ceremonies, christenings, White House inaugurations, and vacation activities. The personal files include scrapbooks, photo albums, correspondence, diaries, appointment books, documentation of Granada, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reports, biographical manuscripts, awards, audio, audiovisual, and press materials.


    The collection is arranged in the following series:
    • Series 1: Business files, 1954-2007
    • Series 2: Trip files, 1972-1988
    • Series 3: Personal files, 1915-2014

    Related Materials

    Japanese American Research Project (Yuji Ichioka) collection of material about Japanese in the United States (Collection 2010) . Available at UCLA Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Japanese Americans -- United States -- History
    Japanese Americans -- Evacuation and relocation, 1942-1945
    Entrepreneurship -- United States
    Japan -- Foreign economic relations -- United States
    United States -- Foreign economic relations -- Japan