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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59, consulting economist, worked at Dole Cannery in ‘Iwilei in June 1973 as a forklift operator earning $1.65 an hour the summer after he graduated from high school. He quit after nine days.
I did show my lack of finesse once by taking a turn too quickly—mind you, we’re driving backward—and out of the corner of my eye I watched each layer of those tiny cans of crushed pineapple, steaming hot cans right out of the boilers, peeling off in layers one by one like a grotesque, twisting, slow-motion unraveling of the world’s largest Lego tower come unplugged, flying outward from the curvature of my turn and onto the pavement below, that black, hot asphalt and a million hot, steaming cans of crushed pineapple exploding as they hit the ground, making an awesome, syrupy mess, which, of course, I had to clean up. I learned to appreciate and respect people’s skills honed over a lifetime of work.
The biggest lesson I learned at Dole Cannery was that if there was ever a reason to go to college and get a higher education, spending nine days down in Iwilei in that Dole Cannery lot was reason enough. That place, in June 1973, baked like I had never known heat. Now, I lived on the Windward Side, and mauka at that, so it was pretty much tradewinds. Mind you, I wasn’t taking an acid bath like the ladies on the Ginaca machines in the cannery itself, I was out shuttling loads from the line to the cooling shed, or from there to the packing shed. But I was out in that damn lot, in and out of the shade of those hot warehouses into the direct heat of the sun. And that smell, how can I describe that smell? It was not a pineapple smell. No, it wasn’t pineapple. That’s the smell of the Dole Cannery yard, and you can go behind Costco today and that same smell is still in the air, in that spot. Remarkable, and eerie. But anyway, a week or two with these old dudes who had spent their lives driving forklifts at Dole Cannery and I was all ready to go to college. No offense to them, but I was ready for air conditioning and higher thinking, shall we say.
66, worked as a trimmer one summer in the 1960s. Now, she’s retired and babysits her grandson.
Forty-plus years ago I worked at CPC (California Packers Co.) as a trimmer. I had to wear a hat, apron and rubber gloves. They also issued a bango number because it probably was easier to keep track of people by numbers instead of names.
I was assigned to a table or line of maybe 12 people. When the skinned and cored pineapple shot out of the machine, we would trim whatever excess skin the machine left on the pineapple.
The people at the beginning of the line, where the pineapple shot out of the machine, worked really hard trimming the pineapple and toward the end of the line people were cruising. But when the foreman started shouting, “Pass the pine down,” we knew the boss or bosses were coming to check on us. That’s when everyone on the line had to work.
State senator, 57, gubernatorial candidate who defeated incumbent Neil Abercrombie in the primary. He worked at the Del Monte Cannery for five years, 1973-77, starting as a trimmer earning $1.40 an hour in high school, and then working in quality control testing in summers home from college.
I chose Del Monte because I thought I could get more overtime, because they didn’t go to three shifts, they only ran two shifts.
We always worked the night shift, the last shift, because it gave us the best opportunity for overtime. We volunteered to be part of the cleanup crews on the weekends.
Because it was a full-time job during the summer, we could make a lot of money. It allowed me to not have to work during the rest of the school year. I was obviously saving for college, university and spending money.
We would work until they laid us off, usually in late August. Be prompt and on time and not call in sick. We were reliable and they could count on us being available.
It was fun. It wasn’t the most glamorous job but there were a lot of younger people working there. I chose to work at the cannery because it did allow me to work only during the summer. I was very active in student government, I was on the newswriting staff, the yearbook staff, I was playing tennis. You learn a lot of time management. Working at the cannery just allowed me to do more stuff at school and allowed me to be involved.
The thing that was remarkable, the pineapple canneries in Hawai‘i really were amongst the leaders in the world, in terms of the technology. There were a lot of things that were developed that were the first of their kind in the world.
You do learn to eat quickly. Lunch was 30 minutes, exactly. The whistle would go off and you had to get to the cafeteria and get your food and eat. You had to be back at your station in 30 minutes. You learned very quickly or you starved.
You met lots of people. It was kind of what teenagers did at the time.
50, worked in the Dole Cannery for three summers after he graduated in 1982 from Leilehua High School and while attending Michigan State University. He is now president and CEO of public relations firm Stryker Weiner & Yokota.
It taught me how hard manual labor is, especially in a factory. It’s hot. It did give me an appreciation for people who do that kind of work. I grew up in Wahiawā. My friends were picking pine in the summers.
I went to Michigan State and the second summer that I worked there, one of the other guys working at the cannery was on the Michigan State football team. A local guy. A Division I athlete and he’s working at the cannery.
I don’t remember my job title. My job, which was actually considered one of the easiest jobs in the cannery, was I monitored the conveyor belts. Sometimes the conveyor belts would get jammed and my job would be to unjam the cans so they could go to get labeled. I had a crowbar that I would use to help unjam the cans. The cans all ran overhead through three buildings. In the places that usually got jams, they actually had stairs and ladders, so I was supposed to climb up and get above and unjam it that way.
But, one jam, it didn’t look too bad and I was feeling lazy. I just started poking at it to try and knock the cans loose. I clearly hit one can a little too hard. It popped out of the conveyor belt and fell straight onto my head. See that scar? It gashed my head. I didn’t realize how bad it was. I walked back to where my supervisor was. He told me “You’ve got blood all over your face.” They actually stitched up my head in the dispensary. It was only like three or four stitches and then they immediately sent me back to work.
It did teach me not to take shortcuts. When you’re doing something that is potentially hazardous, definitely don’t take shortcuts. The safety rules are there for a reason.
There was always that constant smell of pine, cooking pine, they steamed it in the can. I couldn’t eat canned pineapple for about two or three years after I worked there. Now, I love it. I love canned pineapple.
Additional images from the Dole archives at the UH Manoa Hamilton Library.