Spark M. Matsunaga

United States Senator (1916-1990)

Spark M. Matsunaga. Gift in Memory of Spark Matsunaga.
Spark M. Matsunaga.
Gift in Memory of Spark Matsunaga.

Spark Matunaga was born Masayuki Matsunaga in 1916 on the Kaua'i island, Hawai'i to a modest farm family. After working his way through college he volunteered for active duty in the U.S. Army. During World War II he served in the famed 100th Infantry Battalion, was wounded twice, and was awarded the Bronze Star. After the war, he legally changed his first name to Spark, taken from a childhood nickname.

He earned a law degree from Harvard in 1951, was an assistant city prosecutor for Honolulu, then served in the Hawai'i Territorial Legislature from 1954-1959, playing a major role in securing statehood for Hawaii. In 1962 Matsunaga was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and he was a powerful member of the influential Rules Committee and co-authored the book Rulemakers of the House in 1976.

Matsunaga was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1976 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 which resulted in the establishment of the U.S. Institute of Peace. In 1968 his book The Mars Project: Journeys Beyond the Cold War was published.

His pastimes included playing the harmonica and writing poetry, the latter impelling him to pilot legislation that created the U.S. Poet Laureate position at the Library of Congress. He died in 1990 at the age of 73. Shortly thereafter, the Institute of Peace at the University of Hawai'i was renamed the Spark M. Matsunaga Institute for Peace.

-- Biography from the finding aid for The Senator Spark M. Matsunaga Papers, Hamilton Research Library, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa.

Personal tools