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Pineapples Aren’t Native To Hawaii: The Story Of James Dole And Hawaiian Gold

People | August 1, 2019

Hawaii and pineapple go hand in hand...but it wasn't always so. Source: (7-min.com)

Despite all evidence to the contrary, pineapples are not a native fruit of Hawaii. However, the rich Hawaiian soil and the balmy climate make it an ideal location for growing the tasty fruit. That, combined with the marketing genius of a Harvard-educated agriculturist/entrepreneur with an eye toward improving Hawaii's economy, led to the pineapple's close association with the state. Let's look at how this came about. 

Hawaii's rich soil is ideal for growing pineapples. Source: (blog.airmauritius.com)

The Transplanted Pineapple

While the Hawaiian Islands have an abundance of native fruits, the pineapple isn't one of them. Pineapples originated in South American, and it is believed that they were first brought to the islands by Spanish missionaries and explorers anywhere between the 1500s and 1770. It still took a while for it to become known as the state's chief crop, which was sugar cane at the time. The fruit needed some help to become a global phenomenon. 

Sanford Dole wanted to modernize Hawaii. Source: (thoughtco.com)

James Dole's Favorite Cousin

James D. Dole, the man who would eventually make the pineapple a symbol of Hawaii, probably would never have traveled to Hawaii if it weren't for his favorite cousin, Sanford Ballard Dole. Sanford left the family home in Maine to work as a missionary in Hawaii, where he fell in love with the islands and made it his goal to turn Hawaii into a modern democracy and diversify the economy. It was Sanford Dole who launched the initiative to make Hawaii as a state, but before this, he pushed for it to be declared a U.S. territory, of which he was the governor. 

James Dole in his pineapple field in the early 1900s. Source: (youtube.com)

James Dole's Interest in Farming and Business

As a boy growing up in Maine, James Dole was required to tend the family's vegetable garden, a task he enjoyed. Although his parents wanted him to become a minister, Dole believed that this future was in agriculture and business. After finishing his studies at Harvard, he took his life savings (about $1,500) and went to live with his cousin, Sanford, in Hawaii. 

Prior to the widespread production of pineapples, sugar cane was Hawaii's chief cash crop. Source: (jabobinmag.com)

A Struggling Economy

The sugar cane crop was the biggest industry in Hawaii in the late 1800s, and James Dole listened as his cousin explained the shortcomings of a non-diversified economy. During times when the sugar cane crop had a down year, the economy of the entire region suffered. When James noticed how well pineapples grew on his land, he decided that this fruit would be his cash crop. In 1901, he started the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, a one-man growing, and canning operation, from his garage. 

Marketing pineapple--and Hawaii--to consumers. Source: (flickr.com)

Marketing to Housewives

James Dole built his pineapple empire and helped to cement the link between Hawaii and pineapples through the use of clever marketing. He used the advertising slogan "Insist on Hawaiian Pineapples," linking the fruit to the lush, tropical paradise. It worked: Housewives of the 1900s and 1910s really did insist on pineapples from Hawaii because they were perceived to be sweeter and better. By early 1922, Dole's company supplied three-fourths of all of the world's pineapple. 

Pineapples have been called Hawaii's gold. Source: (organicfacts.net)

Dole: The First Name in Pineapple

In 1910, James Dole received a letter from his dear cousin. Sanford urged him to consider renaming his Hawaiian Pineapple Company to the Dole Pineapple Company because the Dole name, he wrote, "is a name which has long been associated in these islands with religious, educational, and philanthropic enterprises." After James Dole died in 1958, the company name finally changed to the Dole Pineapple Company. 

The Dole Plantation is open for tours. Source: (travelcaffeine.com)

A Pineapple Empire

Through Dole's marketing efforts, his pineapple company grew larger and larger until pineapples surpassed sugar cane for the top industry of the islands. He built a lavish plantation house for his family—his wife, Belle, and their five children—and acquired more farmland and factories. Because of his work, pineapple has become a symbol of Hawaii and a top-selling fruit, proving that the pineapple really is Hawaiian gold. 

Tags: james dole | pineapples | Hawaiian Gold

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.