The Largest Pineapple in the World

This giant fruit stood for more than 60 years in Honolulu, an icon as emblematic of the city as Diamond Head or The Royal Hawaiian Hotel.


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This image of the Dole Pineapple Water
Tower was found on a vintage postcard.

photo: vintage dole image

Like many proud papas in the late ’80s, I would compete with my little daughter about who would see it first driving along Nimitz Highway toward Waikīkī. I remember her singing out, “I see it! I see the pineapple!”

Rick Carroll, in 1986, writing in The Honolulu Advertiser, noted that “locals use it for directions. Are you Ewa or Diamond Head of the pineapple?’ they ask.”

Like other great inventions, its birth was the result of necessity, and it was the product of New England ingenuity, Canadian creativity and Pittsburgh steel.

In 1927, the Hawaiian Pineapple Co., later Dole Pineapple, in Iwilei needed a water tower for its cannery’s fire-prevention sprinkler system. The company was enlarging its cannery operations, which now covered some 19 acres. Hawaii architect Charles William Dickey, James Dole’s brother-in-law, proposed to company engineer Simes Thurston Hoyt that the water tank might be fashioned to resemble a pineapple. Hoyt ordered blow-ups of the fruit, Ananas comosus—which is neither a pine nor an apple—and began sketching. He designed a 100,000-gallon tank, complete with 46 leaves, in eight sizes, rotated “to avoid too much regularity.” The tallest leaf was nearly nine feet tall, the smallest three feet. The tank would be 40 feet tall with a 24-foot circumference, constructed of 5/16 steel plates. He decreed that it should be painted in the “appearance of a pineapple.”

Hoyt, born in New Hampshire, had arrived in Hawaii in 1919. Among his accomplishments were improvements to the famous Ginaca pineapple peeler, as well as the invention of a chain net that was designed to more efficiently unload cane trucks.

Hoyt’s blueprints were sent off to the Chicago Bridge and Iron Co. (CB&I), which built the tank in its Greenville, Penn., shop. It was constructed in three pieces, and was assembled in the shape of a giant egg with a total of 9,679 rivets, at a cost of $16,500.

CB&I became so well known for its production of the pineapple tank that over the years it went on to build other advertising water towers: the Gerber’s Baby Food Jar (Rochester, N.Y.), the Sir Walter Raleigh Tobacco Can (Louisville, Ken.), the Dixie Cup (Frampton, Ontario) and a Monarch Flour Sack (Toronto).

The Pineapple Water Tower was completed in January 1928 and CB&I’s newsletter, The Watertower, predicted that it would “no doubt be one of the important objects of interest to visitors at Honolulu.” The tower was shipped by rail and steamship to Hawaii. Originally it had green leaves and a canary-yellow body. It was erected on Feb. 23, 1928, placed on 100-foot steel legs atop the cannery, its tip nearly 200 feet above sea level. Because of its height, it was certified by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Service as a beacon to arriving ships and—when floodlit at night—as a signal to airplanes.

It will “...no doubt be one of the important objects
of interest to visitors at Honolulu.” 
—CB&I’s newsletter, The Watertower

Its first painter was Toronto native Albert Coxhead, and he would make improvements on his work for the next 30 years. Coxhead had made a name for himself by painting the gold pavilion at the Alaskan-Yukon-Pacific in Seattle in 1908, and came to Hawaii in 1919, when he began painting for the American Can Co. He wanted to make the pineapple more realistic. In 1958, he told a Star-Bulletin reporter, “Painting the pineapple is like portrait work. Only you have to make the shadows deeper and blend the colors to get the true effect when viewing it from the Lurline two miles offshore.” He also began painting the pineapple “eyes,” which up close resembled a troll’s bearded face. Working on specially constructed scaffolding, Coxhead would paint for a month to get the right effect. From 1928 to 1958, he painted the pineapple every four years, and varnished it every two years. It required 22 gallons of paint and 15 gallons of varnish to do the job.

In 1953, the pineapple had a complete renovation. The leaves were even taken down, cleaned, de-rusted and repainted. Coxhead added leaves to the base of the tank, to resemble the ground-level foliage.

When Coxhead retired, the painting of the pineapple was given over to local contractor Richard Vieira, of Honolulu Painting Co., who gave it a darker green hue, saying later that it required “more yellow, brown and green.” The old scaffolding was abandoned, and two painters rode up and down on little electric chairs. Each was given a pineapple to give them an idea of the tones. The painting bill was $60,000.

 
Dole Plantation Cannery, in a photo from the 1940s
with its iconic water tower.

images: vintage, courtesy of joe theroux

Coxhead retired to the Mainland, where he was killed in a car crash in the late ’50s. Hoyt died in 1965, four years after Castle & Cooke acquired Dole. Ten years earlier he had been named an honorary member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, along with Thomas Alva Edison and Orville Wright. His idea for pineapple-shaped license plates never caught on. His Star-Bulletin obituary never mentioned the pineapple.

Since the water tower was utilitarian advertising, and not a billboard, it escaped the wrath of The Outdoor Circle. But as the Honolulu skyline grew, dwarfing the pineapple, it lost its signal designation.

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