Pineapple (“halakahiki,” or foreign hala,) long seen as Hawaiʻi’s signature fruit, was introduced to the Kingdom of Hawai‘i in 1813 by Don Francisco de Paula Marin, a Spanish adviser to King Kamehameha I.
Although sugar dominated the Hawaiian economy, there was also great demand at the time for fresh Hawaiian pineapples in San Francisco – commercial production of pineapples started in Mānoa.
It was during the 1890s and the first decade of the 1900s that this crop really grew economically in Hawaiʻì.
From the first canning in Hawai‘i in 1882 to the rise and fall of many small canneries, testing of different growing techniques and areas, and plantations established on different islands, the groundwork was laid for the successful establishment and growth of Hawai‘i’s largest producers: Dole’s Hawaiian Pineapple Co; Libby McNeill Libby; and California Packing Corp (Del Monte.)
In 1868, brothers Arthur and Charles Libby joined Archibald McNeill and created Libby’s, one of the world’s leading producers of canned foods began selling beef packed in brine.
In 1907, McNeill & Libby started its first fruit cannery in Sunnyvale, California. It quickly became the largest employer with a predominantly female workforce.
In the early 1900s, it established a pineapple canning subsidiary in Hawaiʻi and began to advertise its canned produce using the ‘Libby’s’ brand name.
Unlike the other bigger pineapple producers, Libby did not start in Central Oʻahu, it started in Windward O‘ahu – later, it expanded to the Leeward side, in Wahiawa and Kalihi, and then on the Maui and Molokaʻi. (Hawkins)
By 1911, Libby, McNeill & Libby gained control of land in Kāneʻohe and built the first large-scale cannery with an annual capacity of 250,000 cans at Kahaluʻu, Koʻolaupoko on the Windward side of O‘ahu; growing and canning pineapples became a major industry in the area for a period of 15 years (to 1925.)
This sizable cannery, together with the surrounding old style plantation-type housing units, became known as “Libbyville” (St John’s by the Sea now occupies the site.)
During most of the period when this cannery was in operation, the canned pineapple was transported to Honolulu by sampan from a pier just off the end of the peninsula at Wailau.
At its peak, 2,500 acres were under pineapple cultivation on Windward O‘ahu, and of this a large percentage was in the Kāne‘ohe Bay region.
The change in landscape to the Windward side by 1914 is reflected in the following sentences: “At last we reached the foot of the Pali…Joe and I looked over the surrounding hills, but looked in vain for the great areas of guava through which but a few months ago we had fought and cut our way. As far as the eye could reach pineapple plantations had taken the place of the forest of wild guava.” (Cultural Surveys)
Libby’s pineapple covered the southern portion of Kāne’ohe, what is now the Pali Golf Course, Hawaiian Memorial Park and the surrounding area.
While Libby managed the operation of large tracts of land, it was noted that, “… much of the pineapple production was carried out by individual growers on small areas of five to 10 acres. A man, a mule, a huli plow and a hoe provided most of the power and the equipment for these smaller operations. This was the typical pineapple production pattern in the area of Waikāne, Waiāhole, Kahaluʻu and ‘Ahuimanu.”
By 1923, it was evident that pineapple cultivation on the Windward area could not keep up with that in other O‘ahu areas. Crops on the Windward side were not yielding tonnages as compared with the Leeward side, fields were smaller, with wilt more prevalent, and growing costs considerably higher. Plantings were therefore reduced.
By this time, the condition of the Pali Road had been improved, and trucks with solid tires were available, so that the struggling pineapple operation found it more economical to haul the fresh pineapple to a central Libby Cannery in Honolulu.
The relatively inefficient, high production costs of operating many small scattered fields resulted in a decision to discontinue pineapple growing on the Windward side.
Many of the pineapple growing areas reverted to a native growth or pastures and some were converted to dairy operations. The Kahaluʻu cannery was closed down in the mid-1920s.