Remembering the pineapples that caused an overthrow

Remembering Hawaii
Milwood Ohana Productions: Da Pineapple Guy

On November 13th, 1895, the Hawaiian Fruit & Packing Company sent its first shipment of pineapples from Hawaii to San Francisco. That may sound trivial at first, but the events that sent those pineapples across the ocean would change Hawaii forever.

Throughout the mid-1800s, pineapples had limited economic value in Hawaii. They spoiled easily, which essentially handed the American east coast markets to pineapple plantations in the Bahamas, and the west coast was still comparatively under-developed. After a brief spike in pineapple exports during the California Gold Rush in 1849-1850, the industry in the islands was relatively dormant. 

Enter John Kidwell, a British gardener living in San Francisco who saw potential in establishing a pineapple nursery in Hawaii. He sailed to Honolulu in 1882 and began aggressively developing the pineapple industry. Within three years of his arrival, he had five acres of the plants growing in Manoa Valley. He sold as many pineapples as he could to local markets, and exported whatever was left to San Francisco. By the early 1890s, he had over 10 acres of land.

Kidwell wasn’t making money, however, partially due to high import tariffs in America and partly because competitor Peter Camarinos successfully sued him in 1892 for selling poisoned pineapples. (Camarinos accused Kidwell of deliberately poisoning the pineapples, but Kidwell claimed he cut off the crowns of the pineapples hoping they would grow larger, which accidentally caused premature decay to set in.) Kidwell was a supporter of the annexationist Reform Party, while Camarinos was a prominent royalist. During the litigation process, Camarinos established his own packing company called Pearl City Fruit Co., making him and Kidwell the two largest pineapple growers in the Kingdom of Hawaii. This created an economic competitor for Kidwell, as well as a personal and political rival.

Kidwell, along with Lorrin Thurston and John Emmeluth, established the Hawaiian Fruit & Packing Co. as a direct response to the Pearl City Fruit Co. Thurston was the leader of the Reform Party and organized a coup d’etat against King Kalakaua, forcing the monarch to sign the Bayonet Constitution that propped up a small group of haole businessmen including himself and Kidwell. 

After the McKinley Tariff of 1890, there was a clear, political division: on one side were businessmen who wanted maximum agricultural land to grow pineapples and minimal taxes to export them to America through annexation, and on the other side was Queen Liliuokalani who wanted to secure her country’s independence by diversifying the agricultural industries of the Kingdom, which would limit the influence of sugar and pineapple barons.

The Queen started to use Crown Lands to promote diverse agriculture on small farms, which angered Kidwell and his ilk. Sanford B. Dole, a friend of Thurston, initiated a campaign to wrest control of the Crown Lands from Liliuokalani in August 1891, and 17 months later, Thurston led the overthrow that led to Hawaii’s annexation to America. Unsurprisingly, one of the first actions taken by the overthrowers was to take away the Crown Lands from the deposed Queen. John Emmeluth called for Liliuokalani to get deported, but he was ultimately overruled by his peers. 

Thus, the first shipment of canned pineapples that happened on this day in 1895 — just two and a half years after the overthrow — was not just a shipment of pineapples. It was the result of years of ruthless business competition and political conspiracy that left the remains of a Kingdom in its wake.

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