After the decline of the whaling industry business interests turned towards agriculture. After experimenting with several crops it was determined that the climate and soil were ideal for sugar cane production.
Soon sugarcane, originally a crop brought by early Polynesians, would begin its rise into an economic powerhouse. The American Civil War of 1861 to 1865 made Hawaiian sugar very profitable as sugar production, sales and shipment from the southern US was blockaded during the war. By the 1870’s missionary descendants turned sugar plantation owners had become a powerful economic and political force.
This also made the Hawaiian Monarchy quite rich through taxes and tariffs. Hawaiian coins were in circulation starting in 1847 and by 1879 large denomination dollar bills, or dala, were printed. By the 1870’s sugar planters had bought out much of the land while the second industrial revolution (1870 to 1914) in the US brought expansion of railroads, telegraph lines and electrical power to Hawai’i. New movements of people and ideas culminated in wave of globalization which influenced Hawai’i and its sugar industry.
Mills and machinery enabled expanded sugar production and a new treaty was signed between Hawai’i and the US in 1875. Called the “Reciprocity Treaty” it enabled sugar to enter the US duty free. The treaty also granted the US exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor. Maui’s largest sugar mill and Iolani Palace on Oahu had electrical lighting installed several years before the White House in Washington DC.
From 1875 to 1890 Hawaii’s sugar exports would see an increase of just over 720% from 24.5 million pounds to 330.8 million pounds!
The sugar industry required laborers and there were few to choose from as the Hawaiian population was decimated by disease. This necessitated bringing in immigrant workers and Hawaii’s King Kalakaua went on an around the world voyage to recruit immigrants and establish international relations the world’s monarchies. Soon immigrants began arriving first from China then Japan, Korea, Portugal, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Tens of thousands continued arriving for decades after Kalakaua’s voyage in 1881 creating what is today Hawaii’s diverse cultural flavors and languages. The blending of these cultures culminated in things like plate lunches and Hawaiian Pidgin English used today throughout the islands.