by John H. Lienhard
Today, a machine keeps a gentle land from being gobbled up — but only for a while. The University of Houston’s College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.
In 1951, a young woman took me to a fancy luau at the University of Oregon. It was peculiar culture shock for me. Half the college students from Hawaii studied in Oregon. My left-brain focus was ill-fitted to the easy-going rhythm of the event. I still had much to learn.
Ukeleles and steel guitars nattered on cheerfully in 8/8 time. Everyone wore shorts or muumuus. And the food! It was roast pork and pineapple — poi washed down with pineapple — pineapple juice and gin. I never saw so much pineapple.
Less than sixty years before, Queen Liliuokalani had ruled Hawaii. She was a poet and composer, but not much of a manager. Hawaiian and American members of the so-called Annexation Club managed to depose her and ask the United States to annex Hawaii.
Hawaii became a U.S. Territory in 1900. The mainland was a huge market for her pineapples and sugar. She became a market for our manufactured goods.
Now think about the armor-plated pineapple. A skilled operator, with coring and slicing machinery, could cut up 10 or 15 a minute. Pineapple canning was absolutely limited by the rate a human could core, peel, juice, and slice a pineapple. And then, all the juice near the skin was wasted.
Dole landed in Hawaii in 1899, started Hawaiian Pineapple Co. two years later and was pounding out 2 million cases of the canned fruit by 1923.
James Dole was 22 when he set out for Hawaii in 1899.
He had little experience in business or farming.
In his arsenal were an agriculture degree from Harvard, a modest sum of cash and hopes of prospering from the territory’s efforts to diversify its sugar-dependent economy.
But his arrival at Honolulu in November that year wasn’t auspicious.
Attempts by farmers to grow coffee beans, rubber, vegetables and fruit had failed, and the town was placed in quarantine for six months due to bubonic plague. Dole waited out the plague at the home of his cousin Sanford Dole, who was soon to become Hawaii’s first governor.
By August 1900, James was ready to act. He bought a 64-acre farm in Wahiawa, near Honolulu.
And he tried growing crops before settling on the fruit that would make him famous: pineapple.
“After some experimentation, I concluded that the land was better adapted to pineapples than to peas, pigs or potatoes,” he said in the Harvard class of 1899’s 25th reunion report in 1924.
His Hawaiian Pineapple Co. was incorporated in December 1901.
Dole’s bold aim: Sell pineapples to every store in America.
At the time, few Americans were familiar with pineapples. The fruit was delicate and difficult to ship from the tropical areas where they grew. Efforts to distribute pineapples in cans had also failed.
“Back at the turn of the century it wasn’t a product that many people had tasted,” Dole spokesman Marty Ordman told IBD. “Jim Dole was really the one that brought it to the masses.”
But success didn’t come easy.