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.
Libby’s pineapple covered the southern portion of Kāne’ohe, what is now the Pali Golf Course, Hawaiian Memorial Park and the surrounding area. By 1923, it was evident that pineapple cultivation on the Windward area could not keep up with that in other O‘ahu areas.
Then, Libby began to grow pineapple on land leased from Molokaʻi Ranch; their activities were focused primarily in the Kaluakoʻi section of the island. Lacking facilities and housing, the plantation began building clusters of dwellings (“camps”) around Maunaloa.
By 1927, it started to grow into a small town – as pineapple production grew, so did the town. By the 1930s, more that 12 million cases of pineapple were being produced in Hawaiʻi every year; Libby accounted for 23 percent.
There were two main pineapple growers on Molokai, Libby, situated on the west side at Maunaloa and California Packing Corporation (later known as Del Monte) in Kualapuʻu in the central part of Molokaʻi.
Then steps in a fledgling Hawaiʻi company, also seeing expansion opportunities, and it was through shipment of Libby’s pineapple from Molokaʻi to Libby’s processing plant in Honolulu that Young Brothers expanded into the freight business.
In 1900, three brothers, William, Herbert and Jack, got into business along Honolulu’s waterfront. What started out working small, odd jobs running lines, delivering supplies and providing harbor tours ended up to be a company that has played an important role in the maritime community of the State.
In those days, there might be from five to twenty sailing ships off Sand Island. When a ship came in, the anchor line had to be run out to secure the ship; if the ship was coming to the dock, a line had to be carried to the pier.
In the early years of the company, the brothers carried supplies and sailors to ships at anchor outside the harbor, as well as run lines for anchoring or docking vessels. They also gave harbor tours and took paying passengers to participate in shark hunts.
Libby’s need to ship fruit from the growing area on Molokaʻi, to pineapple processing on Oʻahu created an opportunity for the brothers. The brothers, using their first wooden barges, YB1 and YB2, hauled pineapples from Libby’s wharf to Honolulu. “That’s how (Young Brothers) started the freight.” (Jack Young Jr)
Libby constructed paved roads, a warehouse and worker housing in Maunaloa. In addition, they dredged a harbor and built a wharf at Kolo on the south-west side of the Island (between what is now Hale O Lono and Kaunakakai.)
“A natural channel thru the coral reef was blown and dredged to give a minimal depth of nine feet with two hundred feet width. Spar buoys mark the outer and inner ends of this channel.”
“The wharf is a heavily built wooden structure, having a road constructed for heavy truck traffic between it and the plantation on the summit of Mauna Loa. The only buildings at Kolo are those of the construction camp.” (Dept of Commerce, 1925)
Back then, there was competition in hauling freight. “The Inter-Island Steam Navigation Co, established in 1883, own(ed) and operate(d) a fleet of first-class vessels engaged exclusively in the transportation of passengers and freight between ports on the islands of the Hawaiian group.” (Annual Report of the Governor, 1939)
Regular sailings of passenger vessels are maintained from Honolulu four times weekly to ports on the island of Hawaiʻi, four times weekly to Molokaʻi, twice weekly to Kauaʻi, three times weekly to Lānaʻi and daily, except Monday and Saturday, to ports on the island of Maui. Included in the fleet are 12 passenger and freight vessels.” (Report of the Governor, 1930)
During the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, Inter-Island Steam Navigation had the SS Haleakalā, Hualālai, Kilauea and Waiʻaleʻale. There were others that carried 12-passengers such as the SS Humuʻula, which was primarily a cattle boat. “(Inter-Island) would run their passenger ships and heave to off Kaunakakai. And it would be passengers and mail which just went (ashore) by boat.” (Jack Young Jr)
But those vessels had deeper drafts than the shallow barges and couldn’t service Kolo; “Kolo was a very shallow draft channel, and it was a privately owned port, owned entirely by Libby McNeil & Libby. They had bigger acreage on the west end. That was a shorter haul for them. But the bulk of Libby’s pineapples came from Maunaloa which was shipped out of Kolo.” (Jack Young Jr)
To handle the conditions there, Young Brothers had a special tender built, the ‘Kolo.’ “My father had the Kolo built for that. He had the propellers swung into the hull of the launch because of the shallow depth. … The tug had to remain off port.” (Jack Young Jr)
With expanded freight service to Molokaʻi (Kolo and Kaunakakai,) around 1929, Young Brothers initiated a practice of towing two barges with one tug and became known as tandem towing.
The system was pioneered because two barges were needed to serve Molokaʻi – they would drop one barge off at Kolo and then carry on to Kaunakakai; they’d pick up the Kolo barge on the way back to Honolulu.
Then, the 1946 tidal wave struck. “Libby would have to spend $1-million to restore it, and redredge it. And so instead of that they bought a fleet of trucks and hauled their fruit from Maunaloa to Kaunakakai. Everything went out of Kaunakakai, Libbys and (California Packing Corporation (later known as Del Monte.)) So Kolo was abandoned.” (Jack Young Jr)
The end of the pineapple era began in 1972 when Libby sold to Dole Corp and was finalized three years later when Dole closed its Maunaloa facility. The very last pineapple harvest took place in 1986. (West Molokai Association)
Young Brothers continues today. In 1999, Saltchuk Resources, Inc of Seattle, Washington, the parent company of Foss Maritime, acquired Young Brothers and selected assets of Hawaiian Tug & Barge. In 2013, Hawaiian Tug & Barge was rebranded and incorporated into the Foss Maritime fleet, while Young Brothers remains a wholly own subsidiary of Foss.
The youngest of the Young Brothers, “Captain Jack,” is my grandfather; several quotes in this piece include statements from my uncle, also known as Captain Jack.
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