The most visited tourist attraction in Hawaii is the Pearl Harbor National Monument. The second most visited attraction is 20 miles north: The Dole Plantation. While it’s true that Hawaii was once the big kahuna in global pineapple production, the industry had a meteoric rise and fall over the course of the 20th century.
The pineapple—fierce on the outside, sweet and juicy on the inside—was so named for its resemblance to a pine cone. Christopher Columbus brought this native of South America back to Europe as one of the exotic prizes of the New World. In later centuries, sailors brought the pineapple home to New England, where a fresh pineapple displayed on the porch meant that the sailor was home from foreign ports and ready to welcome visitors.
No one knows when the first pineapple (“halakahiki,” or foreign fruit, in Hawaiian) arrived in Hawai‘i. Francisco de Paula Marin, a Spanish adventurer who became a trusted interpreter to King Kamehameha the Great, successfully raised citrus, mangoes and pineapples in the early 1800s. A sailor, Captain John Kidwell, is credited with founding Hawaii’s pineapple industry, importing and testing a number of varieties in the 1800s for commercial crop potential. But it wasn’t until James Drummond Dole arrived in the islands that the pineapple was transformed from an American symbol of friendship and exotic locales into an American household staple.
James Drummond Dole arrived in Hawai‘i in 1899 eager to prove that Hawai‘i could take part in the boom times for farming that were sweeping across America. The following year, he bought a 61-acre tract of land here in Wahiawa, where he established the first plantation of what would in later years become an agricultural empire that reached around the world. Dole wasn’t the first person to grow pineapple in Hawai`i, but he was the first to realize its tremendous potential, and eventually became known across America as the Pineapple King.
Dole knew that there could be an enormous market for pineapple outside of Hawai‘i, and the technology to distribute it had finally arrived. The process of canning food to preserve it had been around for decades, but had only been perfected in recent years. Packing and sealing pineapple in a hard-traveling can was the perfect way to keep it fresh over long distances, and thus Dole’s first pineapple cannery was built in 1901. Several years later, the cannery was moved to Honolulu Harbor to be closer to the labor pool, shipping ports, and supplies.
Although the pineapple was considered a desirable exotic fruit and had appeared in the arts and crafts of New England and Europe, very few Westerners actually knew what to do with one. Dole joined forces with Hawaii’s other pineapple distributors and set out to create a national market for the tropical fruit by showing the world how sweet a pineapple could be. Nationally distributed advertising campaigns featured recipes for pineapple pie and pineapple salad and taught readers how to choose and use different grades of fruit. In 1925, the classic American recipe for pineapple upside-down cake was popularized during a pineapple recipe contest sponsored by Dole. The contest drew 60,000 entries and canned pineapple had secured a place in the American pantry. http://allrecipes.com/recipe/232612/pineapple-upside-down-cake-from-dole/
As the demand for pineapple grew, so did the need for more land. In 1922, Dole bought the Hawaiian Island of Lana`i and transformed it into the largest pineapple plantation in the world, with 20,000 farmed acres and a planned plantation village to house more than a thousand workers and their families. For nearly 70 years, Lana`i supplied more than 75% of the world’s pineapple, becoming widely known as the “Pineapple Island.”
By the 1930s, Hawai`i was famous as the pineapple capital of the world. The Hawaiian Pineapple Company James Dole had founded was now processing over 200,000 tons of pineapple a year, helping to make pineapple Hawaii’s second largest industry. By the 1940s, eight pineapple companies operated in Hawai`i. By far the largest was James Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Company, with vast plantations and a cannery in Honolulu, employing about 3,000 permanent and 4,000 seasonal employees.
James Drummond Dole passed away in 1958 at the age of 80 leaving his plantation and gardens behind. The Hawaiian Pineapple Company he founded is now known the world over as Dole Food Company, one of the most recognized brands in the world.
The Honolulu site, at one time the world’s largest cannery, remained in operation until 1991, its landmark pineapple-shaped water tower visible from every part of the city. After World War II the canned pineapple industry spread to Thailand where labor costs were significantly lower. Dole’s competitor Del Monte, moved out of the islands in 2008.
Today the state’s pineapple industry exists primarily to satisfy local demands, much as it did before the arrival of Mr. James Dole. Even the legendary Dole Pineapple water tower was allowed to be cut up and disposed of. I wonder if Joni Mitchell was thinking of Honolulu when she wrote: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot, with a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot…you don’t always know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”?