The 11,500-acre, 94-year-old Kilauea Sugar Co. closed in Nov. 1971 after several consecutive unprofitable years of operation, and without the hope of making a profit for its parent company, C. Brewer &Co., in the future.
It was founded in 1877 by E.P. Adams and John Ross of Honolulu on a 3,000-acre cattle ranch they’d purchased from Charles Titcomb, a former Yankee watchmaker who’d settled on Kaua‘i after his whale ship was shipwrecked in Hawaiian waters.
Titcomb had gotten his start on Kaua‘i by marrying alii Kanikele Kamalenui and had then leased land from Kamehameha III, upon which he built the 750-acre Hanalei Sugar Plantation, which he sold to Robert C. Wyllie in 1863.
With funds received from the sale to Wyllie, Titcomb had purchased the above-mentioned 3,000-acre cattle ranch from Kamehameha IV, which, as also mentioned above, he sold to Adams and Ross.
One highlight of Kilauea Sugar Co.’s history occurred on Sept. 24, 1881, when Princess Lili‘uokalani (later Queen Lili‘uokalani), drove home the first spike for the Kilauea Sugar Co. railroad, Kaua‘i’s first railroad.
Kilauea Sugar Co. also gained a reputation over the years for adopting many innovations that increased production and lowered operating costs.
Besides constructing Kaua‘i’s first railroad, it introduced, for instance, the first gasoline tractor to replace steam plows in 1910, and the first cane cleaner was installed there in 1937.
There had been 225 employees at Kilauea Sugar Co. when the announcement of its closing was made over a year prior to its actual closing in 1971.
About half the employees were let go soon after the announcement, and the remainder were dismissed when the plantation closed for good.
Prospects for their future employment remained bleak, since other plantations in Hawai‘i were undergoing cutbacks in manpower, and Kaua‘i’s job market was tight.
Many of the plantation’s employees were highly skilled: its equipment operators and mechanics, factory and garage mechanics, welders, electricians, carpenters, factory employees, machinists, truck drivers, plumbers, warehouseman, and so forth.
Most of them as well as the plantation’ s semi-skilled employees found themselves unemployed for the first time in their lives.