Existence and Location of Copies
Biography of Louis Sloss
Biography of Lewis Gerstle
Scope and Content
Title: Alaska Commercial Company records
Collection Identifier: MS 28
Alaska Commercial Company
1 flat box (1 linear foot)
California Historical Society
678 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA, 94105-4014
Collection is stored onsite.
Language of Materials:
Collection materials are in English.
Two volumes of official minutes of monthly and special Board of Trustees meetings and annual stockholders meetings, along
with a few related miscellaneous notes and papers. The volumes include information on bylaws, contracts, inventories, dividends
and assessments, and other company business. Major stockholders and directors include Louis Sloss, Lewis Gerstle, and Simon
Collection is open for research.
All requests to reproduce, publish, quote from or otherwise use collection materials must be submitted in writing to the Director
of Library and Archives, North Baker Research Library, California Historical Society, 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA
94105. Consent is given on behalf of the California Historical Society as the owner of the physical items and is not intended
to include or imply permission from the copyright owner. Such permission must be obtained from the copyright owner. Restrictions
also apply to digital representations of the original materials. Use of digital files is restricted to research and educational
[Identification of item], Alaska Commercial Company Records, MS 28, California Historical Society.
Existence and Location of Copies
Collection also available on microfilm.
Established in 1868 with the intention of obtaining exclusive rights for taking seal furs from the Pribiloff Islands, the
Alaska Commercial Company is credited with helping to open up the Alaska Territory to settlers and to various commercial enterprises
immediately following the U.S. purchase of the territory from Russia.
The founders of the Alaska Commercial Company were among the pioneering Jewish families of San Francisco. Louis Sloss was
the company's first president, and Lewis Gerstle its vice-president. The original stockholders were Louis Sloss, Lewis Gerstle,
Simon Greenewald, Hayward M. Hutchinson, Albert Boscowitz, William Kohl, August Wasermann Gustave Niebaum, and General John
The business of Hutchinson, Kohl, and Company had obtained equipment, stores, and other property relating to the fur sealing
business from the Prussian government shortly before Alaska was purchased by the United States. The Alaska Commercial Company
(ACC) then purchased these assets from the Hutchinson firm in 1868 in order to begin their business venture. ACC also became
the sole and exclusive agent for the Hutchinson firm to take seals from the Komandorski Islands in Siberia.
Hoping that negotiations for the lease would meet with greater success if conducted by a company president with legal training
and personal connections with President Grant's administration, the officers and trustees resigned on January 21, 1870. General
John F. Miller (who later became a U.S. Senator) was elected the company's new president and held this office for 12 years.
Amidst fierce competition for leasing rights, ACC was awarded an exclusive twenty-year lease under certain restrictive conditions
by the acting U.S. Treasurer in 1870. The lease gave the company the rights to take 1,000,ema000 seals from the Pribiloff
Islands in the Bering Sea from 1870-1889. The seals from these islands constituted about 90% of all fur-bearing seals, and
had a superior grade of fur which commanded a high market price. The way in which ACC successfully outmaneuvered its competitors
for the lucrative lease created animosity among some of the other businessmen who had bid for the lease and was a source of
problems for the company in later years. During its 20-year lease, ACC paid the U.S. government $5,925,736.49, compared to
the purchase price of $7,200,000 paid by the U.S. for Alaska during a time when the U.S. received little or nothing else for
While the main business of the company from its inception was its lease with the U.S. government for fur seals, large numbers
of land furs were secured along the Aleutian Islands, the Seward Peninsula, the Yukon Valley, Kusoquim Valley, and the district
around Bristol Bay, Kodiak and Cook's Inlet. Other skins included ermine, mink, wolf, wolverine, marten, lynx, beaver, land
otter, fox, bear, and sea otter. All skins were shipped to San Francisco for counting by U.S. Treasury officials, then shipped
to London for auction by the firm of C.M. Lampson and Company.
ACC was hounded by accusations of fraud and corruption by its competitors, and in 1876 there was a Congressional investigation
of the company's activities by the House Ways and Means Committee. Although ACC was cleared of any wrongdoing, the governor
petitioned the U.S. not to renew their lease. Despite vindication by federal hearings to review renewal of their lease, ACC
was outbid in 1890 by the North American Commercial Company, which purchased the company 's entire plant on the Pribiloff
Islands. That same year, the Russian government also failed to renew the Hutchinson firm's lease.
By 1890, ACC had branched out into many other ventures in Alaska. They had built six salmon canneries, each organized as separate
corporations with their own staff and fishing fleet. They also maintained an extensive chain of trading posts, located at
various points on the mainland coast, the Yukon River and its tributaries, the Aleutian and Komandorski Islands in Siberia,
and in the Yukon Territory in Canada. The stores provided the natives, miners and prospectors with staple foodstuffs, clothing,
tools, and tobacco.
ACC chartered the Excelsior, the first steamer to leave San Francisco in 1897 after the start of the Klondike stampede, and
transported passengers to Alaska throughout the gold rush years. The company built four steamboats to carry passengers to
Alaska, and during its peak years, the ACC fleet included five ocean steamers, fourteen river steamers, seven trading schooners,
several river barges and small barges, and one St. Michael tugboat.
By 1901, severe competition among Yukon Valley businesses made profit impossible. ACC merged with two rival trading firms,
the International Mercantile Marine Company and the Alaska Goldfields, Limited. With its new associates, ACC organized two
subsidiary corporations: The Northern Commercial Company, which took over almost all of the mercantile activities of the group,
and the Northern Navigation Company, to handle transportation. In 1902, ACC sold to the Northern Commercial Company all of
its mercantile assets except sawmills and mining claims. At the same time, ACC sold to the Northern Navigation Company all
of its floating property except ocean steamers, in addition to fuel, ship stores, supplies, and goodwill. ACC became little
more than a holding company during its last years.
Biography of Louis Sloss
Sloss was born July 1823 in the village of Untereisenheim, near Wurzburg, in Bavaria. His mother died when he was four, and
his father died when he was ten. Sloss was compelled to strike out on his own with only a grammar school education. After
working as a clerk in a country store, Sloss decided to leave Bavaria for the greater self-employment opportunities available
in the United States.
Sloss arrived in the U.S. in 1845 and settled in Maxwell, Kentucky. Attracted by reports from the gold country, he crossed
the plains on horseback in 1849. He located in Sacramento and went into business with Simon Greenwald. They were joined in
their mercantile business in 1851 by Lewis Gerstle, and they became lifelong partners. Their business sold groceries and provisions
and later in San Francisco they established a brokerage house which dealt in mining stocks. Later the firm bought and sold
California hides, furs, wool, deerskins, operated a tannery, and acquired various shipping interests.
Sloss gained a reputation in Sacramento as a progressive merchant and civic leader. He married Miss Sarah Greenbaum of Philadelphia
in July 1855. She was the sister of Hannah Greenbaum Gerstle. In 1860 the firm moved to San Francisco, where, in 1868, the
profitable Alaska Commercial Company was founded. Sloss served as the first president of the Alaska Commercial Company from
1868-1870, and again from 1887-1892. He also served as an active member of the company's board of trustees for many years.
Sloss was said to have exhibited a fondness for politics, and although he never held public office, he served as an elector
on the National Republican ticket which resulted in the election of President Grant. During his lifetime, Sloss was associated
with numerous public civic and charitable organizations. He served as Treasurer of the University of California, and was a
founder and president of the Society of California Pioneers, a Trustee of the San Francisco Public Library, and a member of
Temple Emanu-El and other Jewish organizations.
His children were Mrs. E.R. Lilienthal, Leon, Louis, Joseph, and Judge Marcus C. Sloss. His son Leon served as president of
the Alaska Commercial Company from 1918-1920. Louis Sloss died in San Francisco June 4, 1902.
Biography of Lewis Gerstle
Gerstle was born December 17, 1824 in Ichenhausen, Germany. He came to the United States at twenty-one and settled in Louisville,
Kentucky, where he worked for his brother. He was said to have quickly mastered the English language, although he had received
only a grammar school education in Germany.
In 1850 he married Miss Hannah Greenbaum of Philadelphia. The Greenbaum sisters belonged to a well-established family represented
by Dr. Elias Greenbaum, one of the leaders of the reform movement. In 1850, Gerstle travelled to Sacramento via the Isthmus
of Panama, working as a cabin boy to pay for his passage. In Sacramento, Gerstle operated a fruit stand before joining the
partnership of Louis Sloss and Simon Greenewald in 1851. Gerstle was a founder of the Alaska Commercial Company and served
on the Board of Trustees for a great number of years. He also served as President of the company from 1881-1887.
Gerstle also was associated with a number of other business activities. He was a director of the Union Trust Company, the
Nevada National Bank and the California-Hawaiian Sugar Company, an investor in the Pioneer Woolen Mills and the San Joaquin
Valley Railroad, and a stockholder in numerous other California corporations.
Gerstle was active in charity work, including the affairs of the Orphans' and Old Peoples' Home (probably the Pacific Hebrew
Orphan Asylum). He was one of the earliest members of Temple Emanu-El and a member of the Vigilance Committee.
His children were Sophia Lilienthal, Clara, Bertha Haas, Mark L., William, Alice, and Bella Flieshacker. His son William served
as president of the Alaska Commercial Company from 1908-1918, and again from 1920-1940. Lewis Gerstle died on November 19,
1902. In 1911, ACC sold its Kodiak district properties to Wilbur J. Erskine, an old employee, and in 1914 the assets of the
Northern Navigation Company were sold to the American Yukon Navigation Company. The Northern Commercial Company was sold in
1922 to a group of former employees, headed by Volney Richmond. In 1940, the last remaining assets of ACC were purchased by
the same group. According to Mack Gerstle, the minutes of the company's meetings from 1919-1940 were destroyed, and there
is no record of dividends declared during these years. In 1940, after 72 years of continuous operation, the Alaska Commercial
Scope and Content
The Alaska Commercial Company records contain two volumes of official minutes of regular monthly and special Board of Trustees'
meetings and annual stockholder meetings, from October 19, 1868-October 19, 1918. There also is one folder of miscellaneous
handwritten notes and other papers relating to the meetings and ACC business activities which are reflected in the volumes
of the minutes.
Volume I consists of 264 handwritten pages, and dates from October 19, 1868 to January 6, 1904. Volume II consists of 134
typed and handwritten pages, dating from October 19, 1868 to January 19, 1870, and then from January 18, 1904 to October 9,
1918. Information contained in the two volumes includes ACC by-laws and amendments, the names of stockholders and the number
of shares owned by them, the names of ACC officers and trustees, the inventory of the ACC's purchase of Hutchinson, Kohl and
Company's Alaskan assets, plans to obtain sealing leases from the U.S. and Russian governments, stock dividends declared and
assessments made on stockholders, plans to build, purchase and sell ships, the number and kinds of skins sold for ACC by Lampson
and Company, inventories of ACC's assets at various dates, plans to increase stores and ships during the Alaskan gold rush,
sales of ACC property, stores and other assets, copies of some legal documents and newspaper clippings of stockholders' meeting
The minutes do not include discussion of the various decisions reached by the ACC trustees and stockholders during their meetings.
Essentially the minutes record only official motions which were agreed upon, formal resignations and appointments of officers
and trustees, a few reports and letters read into the minutes, and the like.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog:
Northern Commercial Company.
Northern Navigation Company.
Alaska Commercial Company--Records and correspondence.