James Drummond Dole “The Pineapple King”

By F. Washington Jarvis

The following article is from the April 2008 edition of the Newsletter of The Roxbury Latin School and is kindly used with their permission. James Drummond Dole, the subject of the article that follows was the son of the Rev. Charles Fletcher Dole (1845-1927). Reverend Dole served for more than forty years as pastor of the First Church of Jamaica Plain. His work for peace and free speech influenced Nobel Peace Prize co-winner Emily Greene Balch (recipient 1946) among many others. The Dole family home stands at 14 Roanoke Street.


This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of James Drummond Dole, Class of 1895. More than a century after he pioneered the growing, canning, marketing, and distribution of pineapples in Hawaii, his name still lives in the annals of American business and on supermarket shelves across the world. He was a daring innovator, a tenacious entrepreneur, a trailblazer in employee relations, and an exemplary citizen.

Dole was a member of one of the School’s most memorable classes, and graduated in the 300th Anniversary year in the heyday of Headmaster William Coe Collar. Alas, his records at Roxbury Latin and Harvard are missing from the respective files of both institutions. Tripod reports that he was pole-vaulter, and that he came in second (at 5’7”) in the high jump to his classmate Ford Holt’s 5’8” – which set a new school and New England record at the Interscholastic Meet in the spring of his Class I year. The results of his college examinations – also published in Tripod – were undistinguished (including failures in German and logarithms), but he was nonetheless admitted to Harvard.

Two Men of Influence
Both his parents came from Maine. His father, Charles Fletcher Dole (1845-1927), was pastor for forty years of the First Congregational Society of Jamaica Plain. This parish had, in fact, become Unitarian, and Dole was a “progressive” not just in theology but on social issues such as women’s suffrage, Negro rights, and pacifism-and, when he graduated from seminary, had a hard time finding a church that was willing to hire him. After teaching Greek for a time at the University of Vermont, he was called by the Jamaica Plain church. He was prolific writer of books and pamphlets.1 He often expressed the hope that his son would enter the ministry.
     
Charles’ first cousin was Sanford Ballard Dole, (1844-1926), son of the Reverend Daniel Dole, who had gone from Maine as a missionary to Hawaii. Daniel was the first principal of what is now Punahou School, where Sanford was born – making him a native Hawaiian. Sanford eschewed the ministry and became a lawyer, devoting his life to modernizing Hawaii – first forcing a constitution on the decrepit and corrupt monarchy, then overthrowing the monarchy and becoming the new republic’s first president, and finally taking Hawaii on its first steps to statehood by persuading President McKinley and Congress to accept it as a territory – of which he was appointed the first governor in 1900.
     
Sanford’s influence on young Jim, as he was called, appears to have been stronger than his father’s influence. While at Harvard, Jim concentrated on agriculture and horticulture, something that was then possible by arrangement with the Bussey Institute (now subsumed in the Arnold Arboretum). Dole’s love of farming had grown out of his boyhood experiences at the family’s summer home in Southwest Harbor, Maine. His summer chore was to take care of the family’s vegetable garden. What would have been a burden to most boys was a delight to Jim, and he gradually concluded that his “calling” was not the ministry but “the land.” His other summer delight was sailing, something he had to forego when he finished Harvard. Years later, he wrote nostalgically: “The summer of 1899 was my last summer of navigating the wonderful waters between the Camden Hills and Point Schoodie, in the days of sail and white ash breeze.”²

Innovator and Entrepreneur
Selling his beloved sailboat for $94, Dole made his way to Hawaii with his total savings of about $1,500, intent upon making his fortune. Having just turned 22, this 5’11½”, 120 pound Harvard graduate landed in Honolulu on November 16, 1899. At first he lived with his cousin Sanford. “Within two weeks I found the town quarantined for six months by an outbreak of bubonic plague. During the winter I saw the fire department, with the timely aid of a stiff wind, burn down all of Chinatown (the intention being to disinfect in this thorough manner only one or two blocks).”3
     
The Hawaiian economy was dependent on a single product, sugar, and its fortunes bobbed up and down with the fortunes of sugar. Efforts at broadening Hawaii’s economic base by growing rubber, coffee, and fruits and vegetables had all failed. Dole wrote: “I first came to Hawaii…with some notion of growing coffee – the new Territorial Government was offering homestead lands to people willing to farm them – and I had heard that fortunes were being made in Hawaiian coffee. I began homesteading a [64 acre] farm in the rural district of the island of Oahu, at a place called Wahiawa, about 25 miles from Honolulu.”4 Dole had only the meager funds he had brought from Boston and had to borrow almost three times his savings to acquire the land. “On August 1, 1900 [I] took up residence thereon as a farmer – unquestionably of the dirt variety. After some experimentation, I concluded that it was better adapted to pineapples than to [coffee,] peas, pigs or potatoes, and accordingly concentrated on that fruit.”5
     
Previous growers had tried to ship pineapples as a fresh fruit, but pineapple does not travel well and they did not prosper. Dole’s intention was to distribute pineapple in cans – also an endeavor at which others had failed. Undeterred, he planted about 75,000 pineapple slips on twelve of his acres, and simultaneously, with no knowledge of canning, he started a small cannery. “The people of Honolulu scoffed when, in December 1901, 24-year-old James D. Dole founded the Hawaiian Pineapple Company…”6 The Honolulu Advertiser labeled the company “a foolhardy venture which had been tried unsuccessfully before and was sure to fail again.” 7 In another editorial, the paper said, “If pineapple paid, the vacant lands near the town would be covered with them….Export on any great or profitable scale is out of the question.”8 The Hawaiian business community had little interest in another fly-by-night pineapple company, so Dole was forced to return briefly to Boston where he raised a meager $14,000 from family and friends.9 Critical financial support came the following year, however, from San Francisco’s Hunt Brothers, who were impressed by the young man’s passionate vision and vigor.

Thirty years later – in 1930 – the company (popularly known as “Hapco”) had well over a billion plants in the ground and was packing 104,515,025 cans of pineapple a year for world-wide distribution. The pathway to this phenomenal success had been strewn with obstacles of every sort. Dole had no money of his own and he was forced to make frequent trips to the mainland to secure the necessary funds to purchase land and equipment. He had to find just the right type of pineapple plant (Smooth Cayenne), and then come up with innovative methods of growing it. Fertilizer had to be applied first, then strips of asphalt-treated paper “mulch” were laid out; then ”slips” of pineapple were planted which grew through holes in the paper, which prevented the growing plants from being choked by weeds; finally, the crop had to be sprayed regularly. Dole also had to develop efficient canneries to process the pineapples (by the mid-1920’s, Hapco had the largest cannery in the world), and to find means of transporting the cans to the mainland. Each endeavor involved gargantuan difficulties and required new financing. Interestingly, one of his strongest backers was his Roxbury Latin classmate Philip Melancthon Tucker, whose gift of $100,000 in 1927 made possible the building of the new schoolhouse in West Roxbury.10  
     
Dole’s prospectus of 1901 had said his object was nothing less than to “Expand the market of Hawaiian Pineapple to every grocery store in the United States.”11  When production began to outstrip sales by 1907, Dole gathered together all the Hawaiian pineapple growers and devised the first successful nationwide advertising campaign on the mainland to make consumers aware of pineapples – still a largely unknown fruit. As sales increased exponentially, Dole needed to improve the efficiency of his canning operation – by mechanizing what was being done slowly and expensively by human labor. In 1911, he hired Henry G. Ginaca, chief draftsman of the Honolulu Iron works, and by 1913 Ginaca had invented and perfected a machine that could core and peel 35 pineapples – after the bugs were worked out, 100–per minute. This expansion, of course, led in turn to the need to purchase new lands (he bought the entire island of Lanai in 1922 and turned it into a 14,000-acre plantation), build new canneries, organize new transport, advertise more widely. By 1932, Hapco, after much experimentation, discovered how to make pineapple juice – opening up still new markets.
     
But that same year, the Great Depression devastated the Hawaiian pineapple industry, and resulted in staggering losses for Hapco. The board, on which Dole had never had a controlling interest, forced him out of management into the honorary role of chairman. The company was “reorganized” by larger conglomerates and gradually recovered – largely on the sales of the new pineapple juice.
     
Many years before, in 1910, Sanford Dole had written to Jim: “The more I think about it the less I like the proposition of using the Dole name for your enterprise. It is a name which has long been associated in these islands with religious, educational, and philanthropic enterprises…I think it would be regrettable to give [the name Dole] an association of such a commercial character that would adhere to it if made a trade-mark or part of the business name of a corporation.”12 Jim Dole adhered to his cousin’s wishes while he controlled Hapco, but the leaders of the reorganized company soon began exploiting the Dole name in labels and advertising. And after James’s death, Hapco was renamed the Dole Food Company – its name today.
     
For the rest of his life, Dole continued working on innovations such as exchangers for removing impurities for the sugar industry and the development of natural-flavor apple juice. At his 50th reunion at Harvard in 1949, he wrote: “I am devoting much of my time to certain food and food equipment developments which seem to merit attention. I am distressed at the parlous state of the world….and at the apparent lack of human capacity to organize mankind for the safe and humane guidance of atomic energy. I should like to stick around this human turmoil a while longer and have a finger in the game.” He did so – hardworking to the end – dying in 1958 at 80.

His Father’s Son
“We have built this company on quality, on quality, and on quality,” wrote Dole of the principles on which the Hawaiian Pineapple Company was founded.13 He believed in product safety long before it was mandated, and the company earned a worldwide reputation for quality.
     
Dole was hands-on manager and knew his employees by name. He frequently left his office to make the rounds. Even when the employees numbered in the thousands, he would introduce himself one-on-one to those he didn’t know. He always believed that those who did the actual work were likely to have the best ideas about how to improve production and quality, and he was always eager to listen to what they told him.
     
Dole’s philosophy of business was directly influenced by his father. He remarked, “I come from stock, which measures things mostly by the golden rule. At least father did. Of course, being a minister, he wanted me to be one. But he didn’t urge it when he saw I wasn’t keen for it. However, he did counsel me to choose a calling which had in it some element of service to others.” 14 His father noted that”[Jim] knows that business demands more than capital and is not measured by profits: that it is founded on the lines of thoroughgoing cooperation, and is interwoven with mutual respect and kindliness.”15 He cared about his employees and believed their welfare was interwoven with the company’s. “I have been particularly interested in trying to organize our business in such a way that every employee, so far as possible, may feel that his interest is that of the company and vice versa. I don’t claim to have reached this point, but the recipe seems obvious: the Golden Rule…”16 He was committed to “the payment of good wages and providing safe, healthful and morally wholesome conditions for the work in the factory and on the plantations.”17  By 1915 there was workman’s compensation plan in place, by 1920 a generous pension plan, by 1921 a stock ownership plan had resulted in employees owning 31% of the company, by 1922 the company had built housing and “model village” amenities for its field workers, by 1924 the cannery had lockers, dressing rooms, a cafeteria, a medical dispensary, and athletic facilities, and by 1928 the company had a profit-sharing plan. During the entire time Dole ran the company there was never a strike.

Dole’s generosity, in fact, is probably what cost him the management of the company in the Depression. But another factor was Dole’s generosity towards his Hawaiian competitors. He could have used the Ginaca machine, for example, to put his competitors out of business, but he sold it to them at modest cost, and shared with them all of Hapco’s other innovations. He believed that a company should do its collective civic duty, and the company gave the city of Honolulu land for the expansion of Queen Street at a price way below the market. His youngest daughter Barbara says that her father told her the president of the reorganized Hapco thought he (Dole) was a Communist.18
     
Dole’s commitment to civic duty was nowhere more spectacularly – or tragically, as it turned out – attested than his backing of what came to be called the Dole Derby. After Lindbergh’s 1927 solo flight across that Atlantic, the governor of Hawaii and the editor of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin approached Dole and asked him if he would – for the good publicity Hawaii would garner – sponsor an air race to Hawaii. On May 25 of the “Summer of Eagles” Dole announced: “Believing that Charles A. Lindbergh’s extraordinary feat in crossing the Atlantic is the forerunner of eventual Transpacific air transportation, I offer $25,000 to the first flyer and $10,000 to the second flyer to cross from the North American continent to Honolulu on a non-stop flight.” ($25,000 is equivalent to $292,000 in 2007 dollars, and the prize money came out of Dole’s own pocket, not the company’s!) Burl Burlingame evaluates the challenge this way: “The 2,400-mile distance from San Francisco to Hawaii was 1,200 miles less than Lindbergh’s distance. But the distance over water was 600 miles further, and Lindbergh had been aiming for France, which is somewhat bigger than Oahu…Only four planes [in the race] had radios; only two could send as well as receive.”19
     
Arthur Goebel, 31, won the prize, arriving at Honolulu’s Wheeler Field, watched by a crowd of 75,000, in 26 hours and 17 minutes. Martin Jensen, 26, finished second in 28 hours. But the race had a tragic dimension. Time Magazine reported: “Eighteen airplanes entered for the prize. Eight started [the oldest pilot was 32]. Two crashed; two turned back; two disappeared; two finished.”20 Three of the eight pilots died. While others chalked up the loss of life as “the price of progress,” Dole was deeply affected and offered $20,000 to anyone finding those who were lost on the way; none was found.
     
Dole’s early “dirt farmer” years in Hawaii were a time of unrelenting labor and of almost non-existent social life. But when his sister graduated from high school, she persuaded her parents to allow her and a friend, Belle Dickey, to travel to Hawaii to stay with her brother. Dole forthwith fell in love with Belle and in 1906 they were married by Dole’s father in his church. Returning to Hawaii, the couple had five children in quick succession. They built a beautiful home which was staffed by a plenitude of servants, and they attended the Congregational church founded by their New England forebears. But Dole’s total immersion in the company meant that the upbringing of the children fell largely by Belle. Returning home exhausted, he could at times find the children irritating, and could be quite critical of them. He also tended to be rather too quick with long-winded advice – he was, like his father, a preacher. Nonetheless, both the marriage and family seem to have been happy, and his children loved and respected their father.21
     
The year before Dole died, Henry A. White, speaking at the Newcomen Society, summarized Dole’s achievements thus: “In every way…James D. Dole has won for himself the honor and title of Pioneer. In laying the foundation of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company and of the pineapple industry, he was a man of foresight and tenacity, early recognizing the possibilities of an almost unknown food product when few others shared the vision. In shaping the destinies of the company, he was a man of daring in taking the calculated risks necessary to the establishment and expansion of the firm and its products. Ever seeking new and better ways of growing and processing his products, he was a man of inquiring and curious mind, always welcoming innovation. And throughout his lifetime he has been a man of the highest business and personal ethics. Foresight, tenacity, daring, curiosity and integrity. These are surely the attributes of a true pioneer, and these have been the qualities of James D. Dole.”22 – F.W.J.

Several photographs that accompany this article, courtesy of Roxbury Latin High School, may be found here.



1.    Roxbury Latin, of which he was a trustee from 1894 to 1919, has 17 of his books!
2.    Harvard 25th Reunion report, 1924
3.    Idem
4.    Tripod, vol.44, no. 1, October 1931
5.    Harvard 25th Reunion report, 1924
6.    Henry A. White, James D. Dole, Industrial Pioneer of the Pacific, Newcomen Society, New York , 1957, p. 13
7.    Richard Dole and Elizabeth Dole Porteus, The Story of James Dole, Island Publishing, Waipahu, HI, 2004, p. 34
8.    White, Dole, p.14
9.    In August of that year his brother Richard – who had struck out in his own way by joining the merchant marine – died of dysentery in Shanghai. One can imagine the thoughts of James’s parents as their only son now departed again for the uttermost arts of the earth.
10.    Tucker, who committed suicide in the Depression after losing his fortune, was, by amazing coincidence, the great uncle of Charles T. Bauer  ’38, who gave the school’s new science and athletic facilities and refectory at the end of the 20th century.
11.    Harvard 50th Reunion report, 1949
12.    Honolulu Advertiser, November 7, 1981 with correction November 12, 1981
13.    Richard Dole and Elizabeth Dole Porteus, Dole, p. 76
14.    Elise Theodore, “The Man Has Made Millions Out of Pineapples,  Success Magazine, date unknown, circa 1926-27, p.64
15.    Charles Fletcher Dole, My Eighty Years, E. P. Dutton, New York 1927, p. 274
16. Richard Dole and Elizabeth Dole Porteus, Dole, p.78
17. Idem
18. Ibid.,  p. 79
19. Burl Burlingame, “The Dole Derby,” Honolulu Star Bulletin, December 29, 2003
20. August 29, 1927
21. Robert Dole and Elizabeth Dole Porteus, Dole, p.84-85
22. White, Dole, p. 27-28

Copyright  2008
F. Washington Jarvis

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