Sugarcane In Hawai’i

Start of Sugar Plantations
Sugarcane was introduced to Hawaii by its first inhabitants. 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 sugar plantation, known as the Old Sugar Mill of Koloa, was established in 1835 by Ladd & Co. and in 1836 the first 8,000 pounds of sugar and molasses was shipped primarily to the United States and, in smaller quantities, to foreign countries.

Bittersweet Sugarcane

By the 1840s, sugar plantations gained a foothold in Hawaiian agriculture. Steamships provided rapid and reliable transportation to the Kingdom of Hawai’i, and demand increased during the California Gold Rush. There were repercussions, the land division law of 1848 (known as The Great Mahele proposed by Kamehameha III) displaced Hawaiian people from their land, forming the basis for the sugar plantation economy. In 1850, the law was amended to allow foreign residents to buy and lease land.

Conflicts of the U.S. Civil War lead to a surge in imports from Hawaii. In the 1870s, the U.S. and the Hawaiian Kingdom signed a treaty that eliminated U.S. tariffs on sugar and rice and Hawaiian tariffs on cotton and other products. Plantation profits nearly doubled. In 1890 foreign plantation owners lobbied for the Hawaiian Islands to become a U.S. state so they could keep producing sugar and get rich quick without a tax; also, to have a U.S military base on the island of Oahu, now Pearl Harbor. On Jan. 17, 1893, Hawaii’s monarchy was illegally overthrown when the sugar plantation owners forced Queen Liliuokalani to abdicate. The illegal seizure led to the dissolving of the Kingdom of Hawaii two years later, its annexation as a U.S. territory while sugar plantations expanded and property rights for plantation owners became more secure.

Sugar Plantation Boom

Hawaii plantations flourished becoming the world leader in sugar production. At the industry’s prime there were over 50 sugar plantations, mills and cane growing establishments throughout the Islands of Hawai’i, Maui, O’ahu, and Kaua’i.

From the 1970’s sugar production struggled to profit due lower operating costs in foreign countries. As hard as it was to believe, what built Hawaii to what it is now, it was inevitable that the end of an era would come; Just a matter of when, how long could the plantations hold out.
One by one plantations closed their doors completely or left Hawaii for thriving foreign countries. Hawaii sugar cane production produced 9 million tons of sugar cane in 1982, but has been dropping steadily every year. In 2014 Hawaii only produced a little of a million tons of sugar cane.

R.I.P. Hawai’i Sugar 1802 – 2016
The last remaining plantation, Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company on Maui will say “Aloha ‘Oe” and begin to phase out it’s operation. By the end of the year (2016) they will be no sugar production in Hawai’i.

Plantations Built Current Hawai’i
The Hawaii melting pot of today was established because of the plantation’s importing labor. Chinese, Portuguese, Filipino’s, Japanese, Koreans, and Puerto Ricans field workers were shipped in to fill demand of the booming sugar industry. With the immigration came a blended cultural diversity, the ukulele, the Aloha Shirt, and of course Hawaii Pidgin English, now an official language.

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