Hawaii’s Big Five

Hawaii’s Big Five

Hawaiian sugar and politics were controlled by the Big Five. In 1826, C. Brewer & Co was founded by Captain James Hunnewell, a New England sailor, who purchased land in Honolulu with four thatch huts for $250 and started the one-man trading house. In the first year of operation, sales were 40 barrels of assorted trade goods bartered for sandalwood, cattle hides, and goat skins. Charles Brewer, for whom the company is named, joined the company and focused on supplying whaling ships until 1850 when C. Brewer began its commitment to sugar.

In 1845, Theo H Davies & Co. was founded by two Englishmen originally as a small trading company called Starkey, Janion & Co. Davies took control in 1881 and added sugar plantations to the company interests. In 1849, German immigrant Heinrich Hackfeld and his brother in law founded H. Hackfeld & Co. which became an agent of sugar plantations. The company changed its name to American Factors after the start of WW I. In 1870, Alexander & Baldwin was founded by the sons of medical missionaries that came to Hawaii in 1831. They purchased land to grow sugar cane. In 1894, Castle & Cook was incorporated as a department store that sold farm tools, sewing equipment, and medicine. Castle & Cook started investing in Hawaii’s sugar industry, running plantations in Kohala and Haiku. Later it invested in Matson Navigation Company along with three other companies in Hawaii and invested in a Hawaiian Pineapple Company-later renamed Dole Food Company.

Although many said that the Hawaiian economy was controlled by the “Big Five” but the fact was that the Hawaii economy was controlled by the “Big Three” – sugar, pineapple, and tourists.

Another great excerpt from the Hawaii Plantation Museum!

27-246 Old Mamalahoa Highway
Papaikou, HI 96781
(808) 964-5151

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