Oahu Hawaii and The Pinapple King

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View Dole Plantation Oahu Hawaii in a larger map

Pat and I paid our one and only visit to the US state of Hawaii in August 2011. The chain of eight major islands and many smaller ones spreads itself across the Pacific Ocean some 1400 miles to the north of the equator. We only visited one of those islands, Oahu, the third largest, which is home to three quarters of Hawaii’s population and to the state capital of Honolulu.

USS Shaw explodes during attack of Pearl Harbor
USS Shaw explodes during attack of Pearl Harbor

This island is also the location of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attack on which in December 1941 brought the United States into World War Two. The famous Waikiki Beach lies alongside the city of Honolulu. We saw Waikiki and many other beaches, because we drove around the coastal road encircling Oahu, which has over 200 miles of coastline.

Diamond Head volcano on Oahu
Diamond Head volcano

Oahu has a couple of extinct volcanoes, which are responsible for the mountains in the center of this small island, only 600 square miles in area, rising to a height of over 4000 feet above sea level.

Thus far, there was little to catch the imagination. There is beauty in Oahu – fine beaches, blue seas, green mountains and warm sunshine, but these delights can also be found elsewhere. I have had the good fortune to experience them in many parts of the world. The music of these islands is pleasantly relaxing to listen to, but hardly more so than a calypso on an island in the Caribbean or a flamenco in an Andalusian town square in southern Spain. Hawaii is not unique in possessing its own distinctive rhythm. What finally caught my imagination was the story of The Pineapple King, James Drummond Dole.

James Drummond Dole
James Drummond Dole

In 1893, Dole was just a 16-year old schoolboy growing up in Massachussetts. That same year the last Queen of Hawaii, Lili’uokalani, lost her throne. The following year a republic was established by the group of American and European businessmen who had deposed the Queen. Prominent in that group was Sanford B. Dole, a cousin of James. The coup was assisted by a detachment of US sailors and marines from the mainland. The islands were in effect stolen from the native people of Hawaii. Their queen did not go voluntarily. Sanford Dole then became President of the new republic.

Queen Liliuokalani
Queen Liliuokalani

One can only imagine how these events were regarded by the 16-year old James Dole thousands of miles to the east in frozen New England. He must have been tempted to join his cousin at once. Nevertheless, the boy was patient. Dole finished his education which included a bachelors degree in agriculture at Harvard. It was not until 1899 that he arrived with his modest savings in the Hawaian Islands. Dole bought land in the middle of the island of Oahu and, after experimenting to discover what grew best, soon decided that it was the pineapple. Business boomed. The years passed. The Pineapple King bought more land on Oahu and on nearby islands and eventually was producing three quarters of the world’s pineapple crop.

Dole Air Race
Dole Air Race

Life in the islands was much affected by the development of air transportation and The Pineapple King was one of the first to see the possibilities. Charles Lindbergh had made the first transatlantic flight in 1927, after which The Pineapple King longed to export his product from the islands by air. After all, Hawaii is closer to California than New York is to Paris. Shortly after Lindbergh’s historic flight, the Dole Air Race was begun. Starting point was Oakland, California. First prize was $25,000 and second prize was $10,000 and these prizes were won by the only two competitors to reach Honolulu. The race attracted another ten entrants, some of whom crashed and died and some of whom simply flew west and were never seen again. What better way for an enterprising aviator to disappear in order to avoid bankruptcy, prison or a bad marriage or am I guilty of treating tragedy with cynicism?

The Pineapple King himself lived until 1958. His business has since been re-organized to become The Dole Food Company, Inc. It is the worlds largest producer of fruit and vegetables with annual revenues in 2010 of 7 billion dollars. Shortly before his death, The Dole Plantation was established in the middle of the acreage on Oahu bought by him on his arrival on the island in 1899.

The Dole Plantation has since been expanded into a tourist attraction, which Pat and I visited. In particular, we took a train ride through the plantation on the “Pineapple Express”, during which all the technicalities of pineapple growing were explained to us. When our stay on Oahu ended, we flew back to the US mainland. I stared out of the airplane window, as I slowly sipped my pineapple juice. I was looking for an ancient airplane, but naturally I saw nothing. Yet perhaps, somewhere out there over the North Pacific, the ghost of a 1920’s aviator and his plane are still battling towards Honolulu, seeking victory in the Dole Air Race.

Click on video below to see a slideshow of our trip and a video clip of a Hawaiian dancer.