Hawaiian history states that Lanai was first discovered by Kaululaa, the son of a Maui chief. Kaululaa was banished to Lanai for destroying an entire crop of breadfruit. Many Hawaiians believe that evil spirits still reside on Lanai today.
Beginning in the 1800s, attempts were made to harvest various crops on the island; sugar cane, pineapple, cotton, and sugar beets. A dairy and a piggery were also attempted, and sheep were raised for wool. All failed, mostly for lack of water.
A missionary’s grandson, Harry Baldwin, was the first to succeed on Lanai. He purchased Lanai in 1917 for $588,000. Baldwin developed a water pipeline between Koele and Manele. Five years later he sold Lanai to James Dole for $1.1 million.
Many thought Dole was taking a gigantic risk with Lanai, but he had the magic touch. He planted 18,000 acres of pineapple. Workers from Portugal, China, Philippines, Korea and Japan came to Lanai to work the pineapple plantations. (This largely contributed to Lanai’s multicultural society of today.)
Due to the increasing number of workers arriving on Lanai, Dole built a plantation camp, now Lanai City. Soon, canned pineapple from Lanai, a product that no one had even heard of, became a huge success on the mainland. Tiny Lanai became a major exporter of this sweet fruit and produced 75 percent of the world’s pineapple! For the next few decades, Lanai was widely known as Hawaii’s shining "Pineapple Isle."
In the late 1980s, the pineapple industry no longer turned a profit. Dole Pineapple merged with the Castle & Cooke Company who now owns nearly 97% of the island. The pineapple industry has been replaced by tourism. Pineapple is now only produced to satisfy local demand.
Each summer, Lanai celebrates its heritage with the colorful Pineapple Festival; pineapple eating contests, pineapple cooking competitions, live music and entertainment, local arts and crafts, delicious food, and fireworks, paying tribute to the island’s favorite fruit.
More on Pineapples:
Maui Pineapple Company
Maui Land and Pineapple
Dole Food Company, Hawaii