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Chronicling America: Historic Newspapers from Hawaiʻi and the U.S.: Sugar Industry

Chronicling America: Historic Newspapers from Hawaii and the U.S.

Topics in Chronicling America - Sugar Industry


Pre-1778: Around 600 A.D., the first settlers in Hawaiʻi brought to the islands several varieties of sugarcane. The Native Hawaiians cultivated sugarcane, or in Hawaiian, and ate it as food and medicine. The Native Hawaiians chewed the cane stalk for its sweet juices and to maintain their teeth and gums. The juices from the sugarcane sweetened puddings made of taro, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, and bananas. Other parts of sugarcane plant were used, including the leaves for thatching, the flower stalks for game darts, and the charcoal for dying. Before European contact, the Native Hawaiians never produced sugar.

1778: European explorer Captain James Cook recorded in his journal, "We saw...a few trees about the villages; near which...we could observe several plantations of plantains and sugar-canes." With sugarcane, Captain Cook made beer, which his sailors reportedly did not enjoy.

1802: In Hawaiʻi originally for the sandalwood trade, a Chinese man operated a sugar mill on the island of Lānaʻi, with his stone mill and boilers. However, his enterprise failed, and he returned to China.
1825: John Wilkinson made the first attempt to mass produce sugar and cultivated 100 acres of sugar cane on Governor Boki's land at Mānoa Valley. Shortly afterward his death, the operation lasted long enough only for one more harvest.1835: William Hooper of Ladd & Co. started the first sugar plantation operated by foreigners in Kōloa, Kauaʻi.
1838: During this time, Hawaiʻi had twenty active sugar mills, with eighteen of them powered by water and two powered by animals.

1848: The "Great Mahele" (a land distribution act) allowed foreigners to own land in Hawaiʻi for the first time. As large amounts of land are needed for the mass cultivation of sugar, the "Great Mahele" contributed to the growth of the sugar industry in Hawaiʻi.

June 21, 1850: The Masters and Servants Act was enacted. This new law legalized apprenticeships, indentured service, the contract-labor system, and the large importation of workers from other countries. Under this law, a laborer who has absenteeism issues or leaves a position before the end of the contract could be captured by "coercive force" by employers and face strict punishments. Punishments included working extra hours beyond the amount of time specified in the work contract (usually twice the original contract period) and being sentenced to prison to do hard labor there. Because of this law, workers could not organize labor unions or go on strike.

1852: Workers start immigrating from other countries to work in the plantations, starting with the Chinese. On January 3, 1852; 175 Chinese workers arrived on the ship Thetis. Eventually, other ethnic groups will come to Hawaiʻi to work in the plantations, including the Portuguese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Spaniards, Russians, and Norwegians. This situation of extreme globalization resulted in the multiculturalism of Hawaiʻi and the Hawaiʻi Creole English, commonly referred as "Pidgin," which developed during Hawaiʻi's plantation days and is now spoken by more than half of the residents in Hawaiʻi.

1846-1874: Hawaiian sugar exports increased from 300,000 pounds in 1846 to 1,204,061 pounds in 1857, and 24,566,661 pounds in 1874. In 1861, the American Civil War caused the demand of sugar to skyrocket.

1875: Hawaiʻi's Reciprocity Treaty with the United States was signed. This treaty allowed sugar and other products from Hawaiʻi to be sold without a tariff in the United States. In return, the United States received land in the area of Puʻu Loa, later known as the Pearl Harbor naval base. As a result, Hawaiʻi's sugar industry doubled its output after four years. From 1875 to 1880, in five years, Hawaiʻi went from having 20 sugar plantations to 63.

1900: With the passage of the Hawaiian Organic Act, Hawaiʻi became a territory of the United States, and the sugar industry in Hawaiʻi grew even more. When American laws became effective in Hawaiʻi, contract labor and the importation of contract laborers became illegal. A large number of Japanese workers move to the continental United States, since wages there were at least double the wages in Hawaiʻi. Workers were now able to join labor unions and strike against their employers, and 20 strikes happened in Hawaiʻi that year. As a result of the workers' increased bargaining power, the workers eventually received more fringe benefits, including housing, medical services, and recreation facilities.

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Articles From Chronicling America

"Settlement of the Strike Felt" and "Strikers Slow at Returning"
The Hawaiian gazette. (Honolulu [Oahu, Hawaii]) 1865-1918, August 06, 1909, Images 1 and 5

"A history of the progress of the sugar industry of Hawaii since the Reciprocity Treaty of 1876"
Evening bulletin. (Honolulu [Oahu, Hawaii) 1895-1912 - 1909-03-25 - edition 2
"The Sugar Industry of the Hawaiian Islands"
Evening bulletin. (Honolulu [Oahu, Hawaii) 1895-1912, November 30, 1901, Evening Bulletin Industrial Edition, Image 1
"Banner Sugar Output of the Hawaiian Islands"
Evening bulletin. (Honolulu [Oahu, Hawaii) 1895-1912, May 25, 1902, Image 9

"Exports and Imports of the Hawaiian Islands"
Evening bulletin. (Honolulu [Oahu, Hawaii) 1895-1912, November 30, 1901, Evening Bulletin Industrial Edition, Image 43

"Japanese Strike on Plantations"
The Honolulu Republican. (Honolulu, T.H.) 1900-1902, June 24, 1900, Image 1

"Strike Nipped in the Bud"
The Independent. (Honolulu, H.I.) 1895-1905, December 09, 1904, Image 3

"Thugs Active and Strike Food Short"
Evening bulletin. (Honolulu [Oahu, Hawaii) 1895-1912, May 26, 1909, 3:30 EDITION, Image 1, 4

"Strikebreakers by the Hundreds Caring for the Big Plantations"
The Hawaiian gazette. (Honolulu [Oahu, Hawaii]) 1865-1918, May 18, 1909, Image 1, 2, & 3