John Kidwell was born January 17, 1849 in the small north Devonshire village of Marwood. At the age of fifteen (in 1864,) he left home to become an apprentice to a second cousin, who was a nurseryman in London. He emigrated to the US in 1872 and became a nurseryman in San Francisco.
In 1882, with letters of introduction, Kidwell sailed to Honolulu. At the time, there was great demand for fresh Hawaiian pineapples in San Francisco. He acquired shoots of wild pineapple from Hawaii Island and set out to plant them in Mānoa (1885.) (Hawkins)
“‘Diversified industries’ have been one of the gospels rung in the ears or rather paraded before the eyes of the people of this country by the press for many years.”
“That everything in the direction indicated has not been preaching is proved by instances of very gratifying practice. One of these cases is that of Mr J Kidwell’s farm at Wailele Manoa Valley, The Advertiser reporter mounted that gentleman’s wagon on Friday and was driven by him out through Punahou to his estate.”
“Mr Kidwell has thirty six acres at Wailele all cultivable but only a portion of it cleared. The principal crop now growing is of pine apples there being different varieties covering the greater part of four acres. Without irrigation and notwithstanding the prolonged scarcity of rain the plants are flourishing in appearance even to luxuriance.”
“They are also fruiting finely and the owner is not harassed with doubt as to thorough success of the crop. Ground is cleared for more planting of the same fruit besides which there is room where grapevines have been taken out for rows between some of the present ones.”
“Mr Kidwell besides having been a practical farmer all his life is also an energetic one. During the few months he has been in possession of this farm he has with very little hired help eliminated a quantity of lava boulders and stones from the soil which would have appalled a man of less grit.”
“There is the making of a very fine place in this property and Mr Kidwell is bound to have it such. There are natural springs of excellent water centrally situated which occupy a patent windmill in pumping into a tank and system of pipes.”
“Almost anything capable of cultivation in the country can be raised on the farm but at present the owner is making a specialty of pineapples. A grove of young lime trees looks luxuriant in spite of drought and indicates a profitable fruit that may be raised in odd pockets or borders.”
“An excellent style of fowl yard enclosed with an airy but substantial article of wire netting is tenanted by many feathered bipeds of high breeds. This is another diversification of profitable home industry that the proprietor can incidentally carry on with comparatively little trouble.”
“The place is very pleasantly situated amid the finest scenery Diamond Head Round Top other on the highest mountain peaks on this island and the Pacific Ocean being all in the surrounding prospect.” (Hawaiian Gazette, April 2, 1889)
In 1885, Kidwell started a pineapple farm with locally available plants, but their fruit was of poor quality (Hawkins, 1997). That prompted him to search for better cultivars; he later imported 12 ‘Smooth Cayenne’ plants.
An additional 1000 plants were obtained from Jamaica in 1886, and an additional 31 cultivars, including ‘Smooth Cayenne’, were imported from various locations around the world. ‘Smooth Cayenne’ was reported to be the best of the introductions.
Kidwell is credited with starting Hawai‘i’s pineapple industry; after his initial planting, others soon realized the potential of growing pineapples in Hawaii and consequently, started their own pineapple plantations.
The pineapple cultivar that would form the foundation of the future Hawai‘i industry had become well established in the islands, presumably because it was vigorous, productive, tolerant of most pests and diseases, and had fruit of good quality that canned well. (Bartholomeow)
The “development of the (Hawaiian) pineapple industry is founded on his selection of the Smooth Cayenne variety and on his conviction that the future lay in the canned product, rather than in shipping the fruit in the green state.” (Canning Trade; Hawkins)
The commercial Hawaiian pineapple canning industry began in 1889 when Kidwell’s business associate, John Emmeluth, a Honolulu hardware merchant and plumber, produced commercial quantities of canned pineapple.
Emmeluth refined his pineapple canning process between 1889 and 1891, and around 1891 packed and shipped 50 dozen cans of pineapple to Boston, 80 dozen to New York, and 250 dozen to San Francisco.
One of the last laws passed by the Legislative Assembly before the overthrow had been an act to encourage the cultivation, canning, and preserving of pineapples in an attempt to diversify the economy away from sugar.
For a period of ten years after 1892, all tools, machinery, appliances, buildings, and all other personal property used in the cultivation, canning, or preserving of pineapples and held for export had been exempted from all taxes.