Alexander & Baldwin is an American company that was once part of the Big Five companies in territorial Hawaii. The company currently operates businesses in real estate, land operations, and materials and construction. It was also the last "Big Five" company to cultivate sugarcane. As of 2020, it remains one of the State of Hawaii's largest private landowners, owning over 28,000 acres (11,000 ha) and operating 36 income properties in the state.
Alexander & Baldwin has its headquarters in downtown Honolulu at the Alexander & Baldwin Building, which was built in 1929. The Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum exhibits some of sugarcane company's history.
In 1831, Dwight Baldwin (1798–1886) and Charlotte Fowler Baldwin were sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) as medical missionaries to the Sandwich Islands, as the Hawaiian Islands were called at the time. Reverend William Alexander and Mary McKinney Alexander arrived the following year.
Alexander & Baldwin was founded by their sons Samuel Thomas Alexander and Henry Perrine Baldwin (1842–1911) as Samuel T Alexander & Co., in 1870. The two purchased 561 acres (227 ha) of land on the island of Maui between Pāʻia and Makawao, on which they began to cultivate sugarcane.
The land the partners cultivated was semi-arid former dry forest, not ideal for growing sugarcane, a crop that required much water. Samuel Alexander realized that rain was plentiful miles away in the rainforests on the windward slopes of Haleakalā mountain. Thus, he designed a 17-mile (27 km) long irrigation aqueduct that diverted water from that part of Haleakalā to their plantation. Work started on the aqueduct in 1876 and was completed two years later in 1878.
After completion of the aqueduct, the company was eventually renamed Alexander & Baldwin Plantation. Between 1872 and 1900, the company took over more land and sugar mill operations. In 1898, Alexander and Baldwin purchased a controlling interest in one of its rival companies, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) from Claus Spreckels. By 1899, the company had bought out Maui's two main railroad lines (Kahului Railroad Company and Maui Railroad & Steamship Company). In 1900, the company incorporated and was renamed Alexander & Baldwin, Ltd.
The Big Five Era
Following incorporation, the company continued to prosper. It came to be one of Hawaii's Big Five companies which held a virtual oligarchy over Hawaii's economy during the region's territorial years. In this period, the company entered many new businesses and controlled more than 100,000 acres (40,000 ha) of land in the Territory.
In 1905, Alexander & Baldwin and other Big Five companies took control of the California and Hawaiian Sugar Company (C&H), giving Alexander & Baldwin a factory where they could refine its sugar. Over the following decades, the company opened or bought out sugar operations at Puʻunene, Kahuku, and Kauaʻi island as well as pineapple operations on Maui and Kauaʻi.
In 1908, the company bought a portion of the Matson Navigation Company, a major shipping line operating in the territory. The company sold its sugar interests on Kauaʻi and consolidated all of its Maui operations into an enlarged Hawaii Commercial & Sugar Company in the 1930s while continuing its pineapple operations as well as its sugarcane plantation in Kahuku until the 1960s.
Following World War II, the company entered a new business: land development and real estate. The company formed a new subsidiary, the Kahului Development Co., to develop housing in the Kahului area. In the following years, the company became more involved in the development of its land and the Kahului Development Co. became A&B Properties, Inc.
In 1962, the company purchased all outstanding interests in the Hawaii Commercial & Sugar Company and the sugar operation became wholly owned by Alexander & Baldwin. In 1964, the company also bought out the interests in Matson Navigation Company held by three of its fellow "Big Five" competitors: American Factors, C. Brewer & Co., and Castle & Cooke. In 1969, the company purchased all remaining, outstanding shares in Matson and the shipping company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Alexander & Baldwin.
In recent decades, the company's development and real estate division has grown as A&B Properties developed new residential and commercial projects on other land the company owned. In addition, Alexander & Baldwin entered diversified agriculture, beginning to cultivate coffee and macadamia nuts in the 1980s.
End of Sugar Production
On January 6, 2016 Alexander & Baldwin announced plans to transition out of sugar farming on Maui, discontinuing the Maui Sugar brand and ceasing production of sugar at the last remaining plantation on the Hawaiian islands. The company's last sugar mill closed in December of that year.