The only place in the United States where coffee is grown commercially is in Hawaiʻi.
Don Francisco de Paula y Marin recorded in his journal, dated January 21, 1813, that he had planted coffee seedlings on the island of Oʻahu. The first commercial coffee plantation was started in Kōloa, Kauai, in 1836.
Coffee was planted in Mānoa Valley in the vicinity of the present UH-Mānoa campus; from a small field, trees were introduced to other areas of O‘ahu and neighbor islands.
John Wilkinson, a British agriculturist, obtained coffee seedlings from Brazil. These plants were brought to Oʻahu in 1825 board the HMS Blonde (the ship also brought back the bodies of Liholiho and Kamāmalu who had died in England) and planted in Mānoa Valley at the estate of Chief Boki, the island’s governor.
In 1828, American missionary Samuel Ruggles took cuttings from Mānoa and brought them to Kona. Henry Nicholas Greenwell grew and marketed coffee and is recognized for putting “Kona Coffee” on the world markets.
At Weltausstellung 1873 Wien (World Exhibition in Vienna, Austria (1873,)) Greenwell was awarded a “Recognition Diploma” for his Kona Coffee. Greenwell descendants continue the family’s coffee-growing tradition in Kona. (Greenwell Farms)
Writer Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) seemed to concur with this when he noted in his Letters from Hawaiʻi, “The ride through the district of Kona to Kealakekua Bay took us through the famous coffee and orange section. I think the Kona coffee has a richer flavor than any other, be it grown where it may and call it what you please.”
Hermann Widemann introduced the ‘Guatemalan’ variety (known as ‘Kona typica’) to Hawaiʻi in 1892. He gave seeds to John Horner, who planted an orchard of 800 trees in Hāmākua, comparing 400 trees of this new variety with 400 of the then-current variety known as ‘kanaka koppe,’ the so-called ‘Hawaiian coffee’, probably from 30 plants brought from Brazil by Wilkinson. (CTAHR)
“’Coffee-trees are often planted with a crowbar,’ it is said. Strange as this may seem, it is nevertheless true. A hole is drilled through the rock, or lavacrust, and the soil thus reached; the tree, a small twig dug up from the forest, is planted in this hole, and it grows, thrives, and yields fruit abundantly.” (Musick, 1898)
In 1892 it was estimated there were probably 1,000-acres in old coffee throughout North and South Kona; 150-acres new set out by the two companies then under way there, with expectation of setting out fifty more; 170-acres in the Hāmākua and Hilo districts and about 100 in Puna. (Thrum)
“Hardly a mail arrives from abroad but brings further enquiry for coffee lands and information as to area; how obtainable; situation; prices, etc., and the usual multitudinous questions pertaining thereto, all of which gives evidence of the readiness of foreign capital to come in and push forward the reviving industry with vigor.” (Thrum, 1892)
In 1893, Joe Marsden, agricultural commissioner of the recently inaugurated revolutionary government of Hawaii, sent out some examples of promotion literature which were rosy beyond the wildest dreams of a Los Angeles publicity man.
The material related especially to coffee and back in Boston, James D Dole (who graduated in 1899 in agriculture at Harvard’s Bussey Institute (now the Arnold Arboretum)) read the publicity and made up his mind that Hawaii and coffee offered the greatest possible attraction for him.
Arriving in Honolulu, he found that the coffee business left much to be desired. His capital was limited and learning that a small homestead near Wahiawa had relinquished his land, went out to look over the prospect. (Heenan, Canning Age)
“Following my inclination toward an agricultural pursuit and the lure of Hawaii, then recently annexed to the United States, I landed in Honolulu on November 16, 1899; and within two weeks found the town quarantined for six months by an outbreak of bubonic plague.”
“During that winter I saw the fire department, with the timely aid of a stiff trade-wind, burn down all of Chinatown (the intention having been to disinfect in this thorough manner only one or two blocks).”
“In July, I bought a government homestead of sixty-four acres, twenty-three miles from Honolulu, and on August 1, 1900, I took up my residence thereon as a farmer – unquestionably of the ‘dirt” variety.” (Dole, Harvard)’
At the time coffee turned out not to be a viable crop, so he switched to pineapples. He incorporated Hawaiian Pineapple Company on December 4, 1901.
Exporting fresh pineapples to the continental United States resulted in a high level of wastage in the era before modern refrigerated sea and air transportation. So Dole decided to process the fruit before it was exported.
At the time fruit was often preserved in glass containers and one of his fellow pineapple growers at the settlement adopted this method of preserving his fruit. However, Dole chose to preserve his fruit in tin cans. This proved to be a wise choice. (Hawkins)
In the 1930s Dole went into business with Castle & Cooke as principal shareholders in Hawaiian Pineapple Company and beginning in 1933 the Dole name was affixed to the company’s products. (Dole)