The day after Jimmy Mann arrived in Hawaii in 1916, he was penniless. The first night he had met “Doc” Hill and lost $4.40, all he had to his name, in a “friendly crap game.”
During the nearly 41 years since, James B. Mann has become one of the Territory’s best-known engineers. And in the process he has more than recouped that first night’s loss.
He drew the first design for the Ala Wai drainage canal and Kapiolani Blvd.
He was engineer for the first concrete road on the Big Island through the forest reserve from Waiakea to Olaa.
He was associated with Edward Clissold and the late Ralph E. Woolley in Home Factors, a residential subdivision firm, until recent years.
He founded Hawaii Blueprint & Supply Co., originally Blueprint Photo Copy Co., which he sold in 1954.
For more than 30 years he has been in private practice as a civil engineer and surveyor for subdivisions, boundary determinations, land court titles, and the like.
Both he and his wife, the former Henrietta Smith whom he married in 1922, have been active in civic and community affairs. He was vice president of Leahi Hospital’s board of trustees, and Mrs. Mann was a Punahou School trustee.
But he started his Hawaii career pretty much at the bottom. After getting off the boat in Hilo he went to work as a $1.25 a day county surveying gangman. Then he came to Honolulu as an assistant territorial surveyor at $125 a month.
Born in Portland, Ore., in 1892, he was graduated from Oregon State College as a mechanical engineer in 1912. After a summer stint as a dock foreman, he studied hydraulic engineering at the University of Wisconsin.
In 1913 he arrived in Miami, Fla., then a town “half the size of Hilo,” to work on drainage and development of the Everglades country.
“I haven’t been back since, but they say you can drive for two miles and its one hotel after the other.”
In 1915 he returned to Oregon State for a winter of graduate work in highway engineering. Then he decided to look up a friend who had gone to Hawaii.
He bought a $40 rail and ship fare ticket, meals included, that took him from Corvallis, Ore., to Hilo via Portland, Astoria, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
It was not a luxury cruise, however.
“I never saw the water – there were no portholes in fourth class – or the sky until we were three hours from Hilo and I sneaked past a guard and got on deck.”
Despite his “gambling” loss to William H. (Doc) Hill, then an itinerant eyeglass peddler, and today one of the Territory’s wealthiest men, the two young men became good friends.
“We use to date the same girls.”
Later his surveying job took him to Kauai and then back to the Big Island, surveying public lands and homesteads.
His boss was Robert K. King, older brother of former Governor Samuel Wilder King, a man whom he credits with teaching him all he knows about surveying.
Then Governor Lucius E. Pinkham had what was considered “a crazy-brain idea” of digging a canal to drain and fill the lowlands at Waikiki and to build a road from town to Kaimuki.
He was assigned to draw up the governor’s ideas on paper.
“Now we have the Ala Wai canal and Kapiolani Blvd.”
His next job was with the water resources branch of U.S. Geological Survey.
“Just to give you an idea of how much the Territorial government has grown, in those days Iolani Palace not only housed the governor and secretary but also the treasurer.
“Down in the basement was the Department of Public Works, the Board of Harbor Commissioners, the Land Commissioner and the Water Resources Branch.
“I don’t think there were 25 persons in the whole basement.”
During World War I he was one of a group of six or seven Island men sent to Virginia for Army engineering training.
Their instructor was a young Army first lieutenant named Edmond H. Leavey, who later married the elder daughter of a Honolulu newspaper publisher, rose to major general and to the presidency of the giant International Telephone & Telegraph Co. (Mrs. Leavey was the former Ruth Farrington.)
The war ended while Mr. Mann, then commissioned a lieutenant, was en route to Siberia. He returned to Hawaii.
Back home he found his government job filled, and since there was no GI bill, he was out of work.
Walking down the street he met Geoffrey Podmore of the Bishop Estate, who suggested he see George M. Collins, later an estate trustee and then superintendent of the land department.
He spent six years with the estate’s staff.
In 1925 he resigned to become a partner in the engineering firm of Wright, Harvey & Wright. He opened his own office in 1930.
Mr. Mann was a student of Island history. One of his fondest memories of Sanford Ballard Dole, president of the Republic of Hawaii and first governor of the Territory of Hawaii, dining at his Liliha St. home off and on for three years before his death.
The Manns have two sons and a daughter. The eldest son, Cline, was a civil engineer with his father. A younger, James Jr., was manager of the Hukilau Hotel at Hilo.
The daughter is Mrs. Laurie S. Dowsett.
Surveying his 42 years in Hawaii through the transit of success, he considers his $40 ticket a fortunate and rewarding investment. (All here is from Greaney, Honolulu Advertiser, January 12, 1958)