Industrial sugar production started slowly in Hawaii. The first sugar mill was created on the island of Lanaʻi in 1802 by an unidentified Chinese man who returned to China in 1803. The first sugarcane plantation, known as the Old Sugar Mill of Koloa, was established in 1835 by Ladd & Company and in 1836 the first 8,000 pounds of sugar and molasses was shipped to the United States.

Hawaii sugarcane plantations began to produce on a large scale in the 1840s. Native Hawaiian people had little interest working on the plantations for foreign owners when they could easily subsist by farming and fishing. As the industry gained a foothold in Hawaiian agriculture it became obvious that a labor force needed to be imported.

In 1850, the first imported worker arrived from China and between 1852–1887, almost 50,000 Chinese arrived to work in Hawaii. In 1868 the first Japanese arrived to work on the plantations and between 1885–1924, 200,000 Japanese had arrived. Puerto Rican workers arrived Hawaii in 1899 and by the year 1910, there were 4,890 Puerto Ricans working on plantations. From 1903–1910, 7,300 Koreans had arrived. In 1906 the first Filipino people first arrived and between 1909 and 1930, 112,800 Filipinos were in Hawaii. A large number of Portuguese plantation workers arrived in 1878. By 1913 over 20,000 Portuguese had come to work and live in Hawaii.

During the years of Hawaii sugar production there were a combined total of at least 52 sugar mills, plantations, and planters throughout the Hawaiian Island chain.

The industry that led to foreign migration to Hawaii has forever changed the landscape and culture of Hawaii. It’s the reason that %85 of Hawaii Locals exist, reason why we are here breathing today. The diversity of today’s Hawaii, the Local style, the mentality of the people – how we act. Throw the Shaka, Howzit – how we great each other. Plantation camps, plantation style homes, the simplicity – how we lived. The rubbah slippah and clothing style – how we dress. Hawaii Pidgin English, now considered an official language – the way we talk. Plate lunch and Local cuisine – how we eat, Hawaiian music we listen to with the introduction of the ukulele… all because of the sugar industry.

The end of the Sugar Cane era has arrived. The last sugar harvest was hauled to the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar plantation in Pu’unene, Maui on December 12, 2016. The milling process will be complete by the end of the year. Pau – Aloha ‘oe.


Shortly after the (illegal) annexation of Hawaii was finalized in 1898, change came rapidly as sugarcane plantations gained a new infusion of investment. The Big Five (Hawaiian: Nā Hui Nui ʻElima) was the name given to a group of what started as sugarcane processing corporations that wielded considerable political power. The Big Five consisted of Castle & Cooke, Alexander & Baldwin, C. Brewer & Co., American Factors (now Amfac), and Theo H. Davies & Co.

Around 600 A.D., the first settlers in Hawaii brought to the islands several varieties of sugarcane. The Native Hawaiians cultivated sugarcane, or kō in Hawaiian, and ate it as food and medicine. The Native Hawaiians chewed the cane stalk for its sweet juices and to maintain their teeth and gums. The juices from the sugarcane sweetened poi – made from taro, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, and bananas. Other parts of sugarcane plant were used, including the leaves for thatching, the flower stalks for game darts, and the charcoal for dying. Before European contact, the Native Hawaiians never produced sugar.