The pineapple industry of Hawaii has had only a brief history, but today it represents a level of scientific and commercial development of horticulture seldom reached elsewhere. Pineapples were introduced to Hawaii early in the nineteenth century, but commercial cultivation and canning did not begin until much later, just after the turn of the twentieth century. Growth of the industry under the impetus of an expanding world market was rapid, and pineapple production had become large-scale by the third decade of the century. The success of pineapple as an industrial crop had attracted the attention of mainland fruit-packing corporations, which established plantations in Hawaii.
Pineapples are raised on fourteen plantations on the islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Molokai, and Lanai, and canned on the islands of Oahu, Maui, and Kauai, each of which has three canneries. Fruit raised on Molokai and Lanai is shipped by barges to Honolulu for canning. Plantations are owned and operated by nine corporations, two of which are mainland concerns and account for over 40 per cent of the total annual production.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the incipient industry was faced with the problem of developing techniques of husbandry to allow extensive and profitable cultivation. This problem was quickly met under the economic conditions of the time. Profitable techniques of pineapple culture were developed early, and the market continued to expand. The subsequent history of plantation husbandry has seen much change and development, with both the Pineapple Research Institute and the independent research of plantation companies contributing to the solution of problems as they arose. Improved technology has averted at least two imminent crises, the second of which led eventually to profound social changes in the plantation communities.
In the late 1920's the industry was threatened by a serious disease of pineapple plants called mealy bug wilt. The Pineapple Research Institute developed measures of control in time to avert catastrophe, and mealy bug wilt is no longer considered a serious problem.
A second threat emerged at the end of World War II. Faced with swollen production costs and heavily increased competition from foreign pineapple and mainland fruits, the industry found itself in a critical position. Plantation labor in Hawaii has an interesting history of its own, but much of it does not concern the pineapple industry, which entered importantly into that history only in its later phases. The roster of nations and peoples from which Hawaiian sugar and pineapple plantation labor was drawn is large and impressive.
Drawn from the economically pressed classes of their nations, the contract laborers were impoverished people who had little or no formal education. As foreign plantation laborers, their social status was low, a circumstance which was by no means new to them. Rather than return to an uncertain future in their native lands, many chose to remain in Hawaii when their contracts were fulfilled. They and their descendants form the bulk of the modern Hawaiian population.