Falls of Clyde was built in 1878 by Russell & Co., in Port Glasgow, Scotland, one of more than 500 iron- and steel-hulled square riggers to emerge from that yard. She was one of nine four-masted vessels built for the Glasgow Falls Line of
Wright and Breakenridge, all named for Scottish waterfalls. Falls of Clyde‘s maiden voyage was to Karachi, Pakistan, departing Greenock, Scotland, on 20 April 1879. Her early years took her to Melbourne, Australia; Rangoon, Burma; Calcutta and Bombay in India, Auckland, New Zealand; Bangkok; Hong Kong; Shanghai; Portland, Oregon; and San Francisco;, carrying cargoes such as cement, jute, iron, grain, and general merchandise.
In 1898/99 she was sold to Captain William Matson, of the United States. He had her converted to a four-masted barque and added accommodations for passengers, and he registered her as a Hawaiian vessel, hoping that the US would allow the Falls (and other ships that went this route) to be grandfathered into US registry when the US annexed Hawaii as an American territory. When the hoped-for registry wasn’t forthcoming, shipowner lobbying resulted in language of the 1900 Organic Act specifically granting US registry to certain named vessels, including the Falls of Clyde. She sailed for the next eight years between Hilo, Hawaii, and San Francisco, carrying sugar and passengers from the Hawaii to California and freight, livestock and passengers in the other direction.
In 1907 the Falls was fitted out as a sailing oil tanker for Associated Oil Company of California, carrying bulk oil in ten large steel oil tanks in her hold, managed by new steam pumps. She carried oil to Hawaii, and returned with molasses. In 1920 she was sold again, to G. W. McNear of San Francisco, making two voyages between the United States and Denmark. She was then sold to General Petroleum Co., which sailed her one more voyage, and then converted her to a fuel barge in Ketchikan, Alaska, where she served until 1959, when she was no longer needed and towed to Seattle, destined to be scuttled as a breakwater.
She narrowly escaped that fate, rescued in 1963 by a group of Hawaiians who, helped with funding by the Matson Navigation Co. and a donation campaign among school children, purchased the ship and had her towed to Hawaii; she was restored to the point where she could be opened to the public in 1968; a few years later she was remasted and rerigged. She was turned over to the Hawaii Maritime Center, which was taken over by the Bishop Museum in 1996. By 2008, however, the Bishop museum concluded that it would be unable to carry out the next round of restoration and maintenance work, and the Friends of the Falls of Clyde, formed to take ownership and seek funding for restoration and a new venue.