The first sugar to be made in Hawai‘i is credited to a man from China. The newspaper Polynesian, in its issue of January 31, 1852, carried this item attributed to a prominent sugar planter on Maui, LL Torbert:
“Mr. John White, who came to these islands in 1797, and is now living with me, says that in 1802, sugar was first made at these islands by a native of China, on the island of Lānaʻi.”
“He came here in one of the vessels trading for sandalwood, and brought a stone mill and boilers, and after grinding off one small crop and making it into sugar, went back the next year with his fixtures, to China.”
In 1825 an English agriculturist named John Wilkinson arrived at Honolulu on the frigate Blonde. He had made some arrangement with Governor Boki, while the latter was in England, to go out and engage in cultivating sugar cane … and, probably, rum. (Kuykendall)
Although sugar cane had grown in Hawaiʻi for many centuries, its commercial cultivation for the production of sugar did not occur until 1825. In that year, Wilkinson and Boki started a plantation in Mānoa Valley. Within six months they had seven acres of cane growing and processing. The sugar mill was later converted into a distillery for rum. (Schmitt)
The first commercially-viable sugar plantation, Ladd and Co., was started at Kōloa on Kaua‘i in 1835. It was to change the face of Hawai‘i forever, launching an entire economy, lifestyle and practice of monocropping that lasted for well over a century.
Over the years, sugar‐cane farming soon proved to be the only available crop that could be grown profitably under the severe conditions imposed upon plants grown on the lands which were available for cultivation. (HSPA 1947) A century after Captain James Cook’s arrival in Hawaiʻi, sugar plantations started to dominate the landscape.
“After the experiment station of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association was started in 1895, analysis of soils and fertilizers became one of its major functions. On the basis of the chemical analyses. fertilizers were prescribed, and when necessary specially compounded to suit the requirements of each plantation.”
From 1890 two local fertilizer companies started: The Pacific Guano and Fertilizer Company (when first organized in 1890 by George N Wilcox); and The Hawaiian Fertilizer Company (started by Amos F Cooke). (Kuykendall)
Amos Francis Cooke was born December 23, 1851 in Honolulu, son of Amos Starr and Juliette (Montague) Cooke, early missionaries to Hawaiian Islands. He organized Hawaiian Fertilizing Co. of Honolulu, 1889, selling out in 1898. The company primarily serviced the sugar and pineapple plantations in the ‘Ewa plains.
The Hawaiian Fertilizing Company was organized by the present proprietor and manager, A. Frank Cooke, in 1888, and has grown from a struggling enterprise, furnishing to plantations two thousand tons of stable manure annually, to one of the largest fertilizing works on the Islands, the grounds and buildings covering nearly five acres of land at Iwilei.
When he conceived the plan of supplying plantations with fertilizers he engaged the old bone mill at Kalihi Kai, formerly owned by GJ Waller.
But by economy and rare managerial ability the business soon outgrew the accommodations and facilities to supply the demand made upon it.
Land was leased at Iwilei and the company, yielding to the pressure brought by a growing clientele, the lines were extended until Mr. Cooke bought more land.
Besides consuming yearly hundreds of tons of bones gathered here, the company was the first among the largest importers of nitrates and phosphates in the country.
It has business connections in the United States, Europe and South America, who supply the home factory with the highest grade fertilizers for compounding purposes.
From the United States and Germany sulphate of ammonia, double super-phosphates and potash is secured, while the nitrates used are from the famous banks in Chile.
At the industry’s peak a little over a century later (1930s,) Hawaii’s sugar plantations employed more than 50,000 workers and produced more than 1-million tons of sugar a year; over 254,500-acres were planted in sugar.
The sugar industry is at the center of Hawaiʻi’s modern diversity of races and ethnic cultures. Of the nearly 385,000 workers that came, many thousands stayed to become a part of Hawai‘i’s unique ethnic mix.