February 7, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
James Dole

Listen to the Podcast http://oscarmeyerpodcast.podbus.com/Dole.mp3

When he died at the age of 80 The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Dole was personally responsible for the pineapple industry, the popularity of that fruit in the United States, and in large measure, for the prosperity of the Hawaiian Islands." James Drummond Dole certainly earned the calling card, "The Pineapple King."

The Dole family were New England traders and missionaries as far back as the 18th century. Daniel Dole, grand-uncle to James, was an early missionary to the Polynesians in Hawaii, establishing a branch of the family on the islands. In 1899, after graduating from Harvard, Dole sailed to Hawaii, where his cousin Sanford was Governor of the territory, to seek his fortune. With him he packed a $1200 nest egg.

At the turn of the century the Hawaiian Islands were an isolated chain in the Pacific whose economy turned on the market fortunes of a single commodity - sugar. Efforts had been made to introduce rubber, coffee, sisal, rice and other tropical crops on the lava islands. All had failed.

Dole was going to Hawaii to boldly stake his future on pineapples. The pineapple is a bromeliad believed to originate in Brazil. Columbus discovered the fruit in the West Indies on his second voyage. Fresh pineapple is a poor traveler and spoiled before Columbus could reach Europe with the golden fruit. Pineapple thus became a great delicacy and was raised in Royal European hothouses.

The fresh pineapple that did reach markets in 1900 was not enthusiastically received. Wrote one observer, "Pineapples resemble pine cones and have about the same flavor and texture." This was the fruit on which the 24-year old James Dole chose to risk his life savings. And, oh yes, he knew absolutely nothing about growing pineapples.

The pineapple came to Hawaii in 1813, although its origins are unknown. It thrived in the red Hawaiian soil. But sporadic attempts at growing the spiny fruit commercially were all abandoned. Natives scoffed at Dole's claim to "extend the market for Hawaiian pineapples into every grocery store in the United States." But Dole was not going to try and ship perishable fresh pineapples 2300 miles to the Pacific Coast. He was going to grow them and put them in cans.

In 1901 Dole organized the Hawaiian Pineapple Company and planted 75,000 pineapple plants across 12 acres of homestead land at Wahiawa near Honolulu. A half century later there would be over one billion pineapple plants in the Islands.

With $20,000 invested by friends and a San Francisco food firm Dole built a tiny frame cannery using hand-operated equipment. Broken slices of pineapple were inserted through a small hole in the top and soldered shut. From this would grow the world's largest fruit cannery. In its first year Dole's 16 employees canned 1893 cases of pineapple.

The product was a success. Others followed Dole into the pineapple business and the mainland markets absorbed all the canned pineapples Dole and his contemporaries could produce. Still, pineapple was a luxury food on American tables. In the Panic of 1907 demand evaporated. The year 1908 began with plantations harvesting 400,000 cases and holding orders for only 120,000. The infant industry faced ruin.

Under Dole's leadership the eight island packers fought back as a united industry, formulating a marketing plan unique to American business. They pooled their money and launched a $50,000 national advertising campaign. It was the first advertising done by an industry with no regard to individual brands. Housewives were told to "not ask for pineapple alone, insist on HAWAIIAN pineapple." The effect was startling. "Hawaiian" became the hallmark of the finest pineapple. Warehouses emptied and consumption quadrupled in 18 months.

In 1914 the Hawaiian Pineapple Company produced a high-speed peeling and coring machine. With the new machine Dole had the means to outproduce his rivals. But he believed that one pineapple company could not prosper at the expense of the others. He shared the technology with his competitors, charging only a modest royalty for its use.

Dole continued to search for ways to meet burgeoning pineapple demand. He bought the uninhabited island of Lanai and planted a 14,000 acre plantation, blasting an artificial harbor out of the lava to ship the pineapple. When the Depression again threatened the industry Dole began popularizing pineapple juice as a beverage, which bore the Dole trademark for the first time.

Dole was fascinated by aviation. On the heels of Lindbergh's solo Atlantic crossing in 1927 Dole began envisioning the day when Hawaii would be connected to the Pacific Coast by air service. After the first non-stop flight from California to Hawaii by two Army Air Corps pilots Dole offered a $25,000 first prize and a $10,000 second prize for the first civilian flight to Hawaii.

The Dole Race captured the imagination of the public and the name of James Dole, "the pineapple King of Hawaii", became known in households across the land. Five tiny planes set off on August 12, 1928. Two landed safely to claim the prizes but the other three, carrying six men and one women, vanished. Dole was criticized for promoting a dangerous stunt but his efforts led directly to the establishment of trans-Pacific air service.

Dole's success had irritated Hawaiian sugar planters for decades. Taking advantage of Depression prices they bought up more than half of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company stock. Dole was elected chairman but no longer wielded major control. The Hawaiian Pineapple King retired in 1948. He died ten years later in 1958, the same year Hawaii was to become the 50th state.

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