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Cannery Tales: Community Leaders Talk Story About Bygone Summers in Honolulu’s Pineapple Factories

Honolulu’s pineapple factories provided a rite of passage for generations of teens, including state senator David Ige and sumo star Konishiki. These summer jobs tossed them into the grind of a production line and left them with a mix of memories.


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Jae Kahunahana

63, worked as a trimmer for Dole and California Packing Co., Del Monte’s predecessor, during the summers of 1967 and 1968.


The two canneries were really different. CPC was kind of strict. You had to stand the whole time, and there was no talking. Dole was fun. They played music—The Young Rascals, The Raiders, “Heard it Through the Grapevine,” Herman’s Hermits. All the trimmers would kind of dance as we worked. We would go to the right, then go to the left. Dole had a happier, better atmosphere, and we were more productive. And Dole had seats. We didn’t actually sit down a lot, because you worked better standing. But you could grab a seat when the machine got stuck.


You know that show where Lucille Ball is working in the chocolate factory, and the machine starts going faster and faster, and she can’t keep up so she starts eating the candy? That’s how it felt in the cannery sometimes. Sometimes the pineapples would go by so fast, it definitely reminded me of I Love Lucy.



Shirley Tanabe Lee

66, worked as a trimmer at Dole Cannery one summer in the 1960s. Today, she’s a tariff administrator at Young Brothers.


I worked one summer at Dole during the night shift, around 10 p.m. till 6 a.m. It was work, no fun. So one summer was more than enough for me.  But I always say, everyone should work at the cannery so they have the ambition to do something better. Checking pineapples was a boring job. The pineapple came out of the shoot and those at the beginning checked what they could and those at the end had to hurry before the pineapple went down the drain. Someone told me, just take off two slices at each end and you’re good. At that time, I hated pineapple, but guess what, today I love pineapple, especially with li hing powder!  


Ben Wong

60, worked on the catwalk in the Dole Cannery during the summer of 1968. Today, he’s the host of KHON-TV’s Let’s Go Fishing.


I worked on the catwalk to ensure the cans filled with pineapple didn’t jam up on the wire tracks as they were headed for sealing. When the cans would invariably jam up, we would reach over with sticks and knock them loose.


I remember the giant pineapple water tower was still on the roof then. I remember the cafeteria food was good. It was real local food, like tripe stew. I remember catching the bus home from this part of town at 5 in the morning was sketchy. I lived in Kaimukī, and I would often fall asleep and miss my stop. The shift was 44 hours a week, if I remember correctly. Overtime didn’t begin until the 45th hour.


I remember there were days when all the pineapple processing stopped, and everybody showed up dressed to scrub down the entire place. There was some really weird white mold on the bottoms of the conveyor belts the ladies worked on. Some unusual life that I had not seen before.


One summer of that was enough for me.


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Honolulu Magazine August 2020
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