Hawai‘i’s pineapple industry was so pervasive in the 20TH century that if you talk to enough local people of a certain age, you’ll hear stories of their first job picking pineapple or working in the cannery.
The industry may no longer be the economic workhorse it once was, but you can revisit the fruit’s heyday in the islands at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa’s Hamilton Library.
The amount of archive material is impressive, diverse and somewhat dizzying, covering a span of almost 100 years. The meticulous business-minded researcher can wonk out on the board meeting agendas, minutes and annual reports. Sociologists can read all the company’s newsletters, which included sports and gossipy tidbits about who was marrying whom. Artists and graphic designers can view nearly five-foot-long posters, labels for dozens of brands canned by Hawaiian Pineapple Co. and advertisements and newsletters.
Included in the collection is a magazine advertisement featuring a pineapple bud painted by the famous American artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who was commissioned by the company. (Other works from O’Keeffe’s visit are currently being exhibited at the New York Botanical Garden through October 2018.)
“This is a meaningful collection be- cause pineapple was a huge industry in Hawai‘i, second only to sugar,” says Jodie Mattos, Hawaiian Collection librarian. In addition to the cultural and social impact on the Islands, an invention out of Honolulu would change the industry forever. In 1911, Hawaiian Pineapple Co. employee Henry Ginaca created a machine that cored and peeled pineapple in one operation. The machine tripled production, leading to the company’s expansion to Lana‘i and beyond. The Ginaca machine is still in use around the world today.
When asked what interesting things she has found in the collection, she notes the O’Keeffe advertisements and the scrapbooks. “Librarians sometimes find scrapbooks daunting because it’s one person’s collection of anything, but for a corporation it’s more organized and they tried to keep records of all mentions of the company and community members in the news,” she says.
She added it’s interesting to be asked that question because most request- ers know what they’re looking for, such as researching pineapple operations technology or studying the people and how they lived at the time. Among the library’s rare collections, it’s the second most requested, behind only its Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association Plantation Archives.
In the late 20th century, Dole Food Co. hired local archivist Peter Smith, whose father once worked at the company, to collect and catalog the material, and then to find a suitable home for it. He worked with librarian Chieko Tachihata, then the Hawaiian Collection’s curator, and it was gifted to UH in 1994.
A sizable portion of the collection focuses on the island of Lana‘i. Dole Food Co. owned 97 percent of the island’s real estate up until 2012, when Larry Ellison, founder of technology company Oracle and the eighth-wealthiest person in the world, purchased it for more than $300 million. The collection’s Lana‘i news isn’t all just pineapple. It includes the front of page of the Honolulu Advertiser’s Feb. 4, 1926 edition. Radio telephone service had been installed and the bosses in Honolulu could now speak over the phone to workers on Lana‘i. And some headlines seem like they could be written today, like a 1951 Honolulu Star-Bulletin article saying Lana‘i parents demand a new school to replace its current inadequate facilities.
But seeing what else the company included in its archives also proves compelling, such as newspaper clippings of workers and community members’ wedding and birth announcements, to programs for a symphony concert and a operetta. Certainly it was a very unique situation where the success of the company and its business influenced the lives of everyone on the small island community, but is Apple Inc. saving such details about Cupertino in its archives?
The collection also contains booklets featuring recipes incorporating pineapple, a strategy foodmakers still use today to help consumers use more of their product. Some are familiar like a pineapple ice cream and variations of pork and pineapple, but some may just be a sign of the times, like a pineapple omelet or pineapple with pimento cheese.
The vast collection would take a few days to look through. Mattos says it hasn’t been exhibited to her knowledge, and some items in the collection like company correspondence and newsletters, aren’t suitable for such a display. The public, however, is welcome to request any items for viewing.