In 1837 Samuel Northrup Castle and Amos Starr Cooke landed in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaiʻi,) as part of the 8th Company of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
Neither were missionary ministers. Castle was assigned to the ‘depository’ (a combination store, warehouse and bank) to help the missionaries pool and purchase their supplies, to negotiate shipments around the Horn and to distribute and collect for the goods when received. Cooke was a teacher.
Twelve years after Castle and Cooke had landed in the Islands, the American board decided that its purposes had been accomplished. It advised its representatives that their work was done and the board’s financial support would end.
Over the years Castle, who felt Cooke’s accounting abilities would help the depository, kept trying to convince his friend to join him. Cooke firmly declined until 1849, when his schooling of the royal children was complete. He needed to make a living since monetary support from Missions headquarters had been discontinued.
Castle and Cooke, good friends, decided they would become business partners. Many of the missionaries were planning to remain. Their needs must be met. So those of other residents and the crews of the whaling ships which wintered in Honolulu harbor.
So a business was born. On June 2, 1851, Samuel Northrup Castle and Amos Starr Cooke signed their names to partnership papers. A sign reading ‘Kakela me Kuke’ (‘Castle & Cooke’) was installed at the entrance to the Honolulu depository.
Money could be made by trading with the community at large, while mission posts could be supplied at cost. They took up the matter with the Mission Board in Boston, which, after two years, decided to release the partners from the mission and pay each a yearly salary of $500.
In 1853 a branch store was opened downtown, to be closer to the considerable action the California Gold Rush brought. Also in 1853, Castle and Cooke purchased their first ship, the Morning Star to ship produce to California. By 1856, the partners elected to sell the depository, located on the outskirts of Honolulu, to concentrate on their burgeoning downtown business.
In 1858, Castle and Cooke first ventured out of the mercantile business to make an investment in the new sugar industry. In the late 1860s they branched into the shipping business, handling shore-side business for a number of transpacific schooners and several inter-island vessels.
Despite these diversifications, however, the mercantile portion of the business continued to provide the bulk of the profits. One of the most active customers was Kanaʻina, husband of High Chiefess Kekāuluohi and father of the boy who was to become King Lunalilo.
Then, the Civil War started; goods became hard to get and sales slumped. Then, business with the whalers failed; oil found in Titusville, Pennsylvania replaced whale oil. Castle & Cooke almost went out of business. It was sugar that encouraged the partners to continue their business.
They had generally avoided the policy of investing their firm’s funds in other enterprises, but had bought personally into ventures that attracted them. This often led to relationships producing merchandise and shipping business for the firm and occasionally resulted in its appointment as fiscal agent for a company — as in the case of Kohala Sugar Company.
Kohala Sugar was founded in 1863 by the Rev Elias Bond; he organized the venture to create jobs for the Hawaiians living in Kohala. (It was not until 1910 that Castle & Cooke as a firm acquired an interest in the Kohala Sugar Company, though it had served as its agent for nearly 50 years.)
Then, in 1890, BF Dillingham’s railroad (OR&L,) started with the help of $100,000 invested by Castle, ended at Pearl City. To go further the line needed freight revenues. None were in sight – unless the Ewa land could be made to grow sugar by tapping its underlying fresh water sources to irrigate the crop.
From the organization of Kohala in 1863 until the Ewa lands were leased for sugar in 1890, Castle & Cooke at one time or another served as agent for nine plantations.
On December 28, 1894, the Castle & Cooke partnership was incorporated. The company continued to believe in the profitability of the Ewa Plantation and the risk paid off. In 1898, the original merchandise business was sold.
Diversification did not stop, however. In the ensuing years Castle & Cooke involved itself in an automobile company, the Hawaiian Fertilizer Company, and a big but short venture into the sugar refinery business with the Honolulu Sugar Refining Company.
Although Castle & Cooke had been in the shipping business for 50 years, a 1907 agreement with William Matson to be the agent for his Matson Navigation Company greatly increased the business in this area. The agreement endured for 56 years.
To insure a supply of oil for his ships, Captain Matson bought some wells in California and built a pipeline to the coast. In 1910 he founded the Honolulu Oil Corporation. Castle & Cooke, with other island firms, helped him finance his oil venture.
Pineapple cultivation on a commercial scale began in Hawaii in 1886 when Captain John Kidwell set out a thousand plants in Mānoa valley. By 1909, Castle & Cooke, as agent for Waialua, had negotiated leases of over 3,000 acres of the plantation’s upper lands to James D Dole and other growers for pineapple plantings.
Castle & Cooke had no substantial direct investment in the pineapple industry until 1932 when Hawaiian Pineapple Company (later Dole) encountered financial trouble. In that year Castle & Cooke and Waialua jointly under wrote the reorganization of the pineapple company and for a few years thereafter, Castle & Cooke served as its agent and took over the operations.
Castle & Cooke recognized the need for diversification which led to investment in tuna canning (Hawaiian Tuna Packers, 1946) and macadamia nuts (Royal Hawaiian Macadamia Nuts, 1948.)
For a time in the 1960s, Castle & Cooke were the biggest of the Big Five (C Brewer (1826;) Theo H. Davies (1845;) Amfac – starting as Hackfeld & Company (1849;) Castle & Cooke (1851) and Alexander & Baldwin (1870;)) however, Amfac later outpaced it.
Later, the company was the subject of several takeover bids; ultimately, David Murdock took firm control of Castle & Cooke (1985,) reorganized it into a holding company for three separate operations: Flexi-Van, Dole Food and Oceanic Properties, and relocated its headquarters to Los Angeles. (Lots of information is from Castle & Cooke, Greaney and FundingUniverse.)