Monday, June 13, 2011


Energy and Power in Hawai`i (1850-93)

By Henry Curtis

Many of the energy issues that exist today can be traced back to the 19th century. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the discovery of electricity and the modern rediscovery of petroleum, the economy took off. Many options were considered for Hawai`i.

Hawai`i was similar to other places undergoing the revolution in energy production and use. Obviously biomass (sugarcane) was available. In the early 1800s coal was replacing sails as a means of ocean travel. Honolulu became a coaling port. By the end of the century oil would begin to replace coal for ocean travel. Oil was easier to transport and weighed less. Hawai`i served as a marine hub for whaling ships. Whale oil and then petroleum products such as kerosene were used for street lamps and indoor lighting.

In the later 1880s electricity became available in Hawai`i. At first electricity was made from petroleum and streams (hydroelectric) and then later bagasse. The Gas Company (1890) and Hawaiian Electric Company (1891-93) were established to enter this new and burgeoning field. Laws regulating electric utilities and the establishment of franchises occurred just before and just after the overthrow of the Hawai`i kingdom (1893).

The one modern group that seeks to justify its connection with the past are the geothermal advocates. They seek to show that King Kalakaua was fascinated with geothermal and looked to it as a means of powering the State. King Kalakaua was rumored to have visited Thomas Edison in New York City to discuss this issue. We do know that he visited Menlo Park (New Jersey) to seem a demonstration of electricity.

What energy sources were used in Hawai`i during the Hawaiian Kingdom?

In researching the issue, my chief web-based resources were:

The Ka Huli Ao Digital Archives managed by the Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law, William S. Richardson School of Law. “In collaboration with the Hawai‘i State Archives we [Ka Huli Ao] have amassed a collection of approximately three hundred thousand images of historic documents ranging from the Kingdom of Hawai‘i's original Constitution to the journals of the proceedings of the House of Nobles. In an effort to create greater access and greater functionality of the collection the images are being transcribed or processed using optical character recognition, and the resulting text is being mounted, along with the document images, on this website.”

The Chronicling America “website allows you to search and view American historic newspapers, published 1860-1922, digitized through the NDNP, as well as discover more about newspapers published in the U.S., 1690-present. …The National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Library of Congress (LC), is a long-term effort to develop an Internet-based, searchable database of U.S. newspapers with descriptive information and select digitization of historic pages. Supported by NEH, this rich digital resource will be developed and permanently maintained at the Library of Congress. An NEH award program will fund the contribution of content from, eventually, all U.S. states and territories.”

Hawaiian Kingdom includes the entire Hawaii Kingdom Civil Code and Penal Codes


Whale Oil (1853): “An Act Regulating the Duties of the Products of Whales (1853): oil, bone, and other products of the sea, taken by a Hawaiian vessel, may be imported into this kingdom free of duty”

Whale Oil (1858): “An Act To Employment and Pay of Native Sailors on Board Foreign Vessels (1858) It shall be optional with every native sailor discharged from a whale ship, to receive his pay either in cash … [or] to receive his share of the oil, bone, &c, should he prefer so to do.”

Whale Oil (1859):  Hawai`i Civil Code passed in 1859: Article XV––Of Imports Duties. “§516.  There shall be levied, collected and paid upon all goods, wares, merchandise and produce, imported into this kingdom, a duty of five per cent.  … Provided, however, that no import duty whatever shall be levied upon a … goods allowed to be imported by whale ships, … nor upon any oil, bone or other products of the sea, being the catch of a duly registered Hawaiian vessel.”

Whale Oil (1867): “A line of fast-sailing packets, making the voyage to Honolulu in from 12 to 15 days has been doing a paying business for several years, bringing the products of that island in the shape of sugar, molasses, coffee, and whale oil, and carrying to Honolulu in return assorted merchandise from San Francisco.” 


Coal (1852): Constitution and laws of His Majesty Kamehameha III (1852) “Any vessel taking on board or discharging any ballast or coals within the Harbor of Honolulu, shall have a tarpaulin properly stretched and spread, so as to prevent any from falling into the water.”

Coal (1862): “An Act to Promote Inter-Island Communication … Hawaiian Steam and General Inter-Island Navigation Company, … The said Company shall have the exclusive privilege of running a steamer or steamers between the several ports and islands of the Hawaiian Kingdom, for the term of twelve years from date, with the exemptions and privileges granted, or which may be hereafter granted to national merchant vessels.  … All coal or other materials for the production of steam, and all machinery necessary for the use of any of the said, steamers, shall be imported free of duty, and the vessels in which said coal or other materials or machinery are imported, shall be free from harbor dues, provided they do not take on board any other article of traffic or commerce or any passengers. … Said Company shall carry the public mails between all the ports and places their vessels visit free of charge, and safely deliver the same to the person directed, and always subject to all .postal laws, always giving seasonable notice of the time and place of departure.” 

Coal (1864): “That from and after the publication of this Act, Coal, when imported into this Kingdom, shall be free of duty. Approved this 31st day of December, A. D. 1864.”

Coal (1877): Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 "pledged Hawaii not to alienate any of its territory to any other power.  When that treaty was extended in 1887, to expire in 1894, Hawaii granted the United States a coaling-and-repair-station site at Pearl Harbor.  This site was not improved or used until much later.  Naval officers held that Pearl Harbor was useless as long as the United States did not control the Port of Honolulu and the rest of the Island of Oahu."

Coal and Petroleum (1876): “His Majesty the King did, on the 30th day of January, 1875, enter into a Convention with the United States of America … Be it Enacted by the King and the Legislative Assembly of the Hawaiian Islands ... coal  ... petroleum and all oils for lubricating or illuminating purposes ...shall be introduced into this country free of duty so long as the said Convention  shall remain in force. Approved this 18th day of July, A. D. 1876.”


Petroleum (1868): “The Penal Code of the Hawaiian Kingdom, compiled from the Penal Code of 1850, and the various penal enactments since made, pursuant to act of the Legislative Assembly, June 22d, 1868. … No person shall receive, keep or store, or cause to be received, kept or stored, or aid or assist any person in receiving, keeping or storing, or have at any one time, in any one place, except the storehouse provided therefor by government, more than one case of naptha, and one case of benzole, nor more than ten cases of petroleum, kerosene oil, or any oils, of which the component part is petroleum, naptha or spirits of turpentine.” (1868, p. 12.)


The Gas Company (1890): Hawaiian Gazette ( December 23, 1890, p.5): “Granting a Franchise to the Hawaiian Gas Company … The said company shall have the right to erect at such place or places in the city towns and villages as the Minister of the Interior may approve gas works for the manufacture of a hydro carbon gas and the right to maintain and operate the same during the continuance of the franchise … The said company shall have thought to lay down their main and distributing and supply pipes in all or any of the streets roads alleys and public grounds of the city of Honolulu and of all towns and villages in the Kingdom of Hawaii other than Honolulu as the said company may deem expedient or necessary provided however that they cause no unnecessary interruption to the use of such streets roads alleys …  The said company shall have the right to erect lamp posts and lamps for lighting the streets roads alleys and public grounds of such city towns and villages at such places as may be approved by the said Minister of the Interior.”


Puna Geothermal Ventures: “In 1881 King David Kalakaua visited Thomas Edison in New York to discuss extracting power from Hawaii’s volcanoes and using underwater cables to carry power between islands.”

I could not find any documents in either Ka Huli Ao Digital Archives or Chronicling America discussing this meeting or idea. What I did find is the following:

In 1889 the Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair) was held in Paris. The major events are associated with the Fair included the grand opening of the Eiffel Tower, the first use of electric lights and Thomas Edison’s first motion picture. The following year the Brush Electric Light Company established New York City’s first electric company. A small generator powered street lights on lower Broadway.

King Kalakaua visited New York City in September 1881. During the King’s visit to NYC, the New-York Tribune (September 25, 1881) wrote an article about the King: “One of the sights that pleased him most was the Paris Electrical Exhibition. We spent some time there. Kalakaua is going to introduce the electric light in his own kingdom; and he examined the different lamps on that account with the greatest interest. The life in Paris entertained him very much; they turned night into day there.”

The following year Thomas Edison’s first generator in New York City (Pearl Street) went into operation.

The following year Thomas Edison’s first generator in New York City (Pearl Street) went into operation.

While people have used natural geothermal springs and spas for thousands of years, the world’s first commercial demonstration of geothermal did not occur until in 20th century. An Italian pilot facility powered 4 light bulbs in 1904. A commercial plant was built in Italy in 1911. Aotearoa (New Zealand) became the second country with geothermal electricity (1958) followed by the U.S. (1960).


In 1886 Charles Otto Berger demonstrated an electric light at Iolani Palace. On November 16, 1886 (the King’s birthday) Iolani Palace was lit. On March 23, 1888, the Nuuanu hydroelectric system went on-line providing electricity for street lamps.


Transmission of Electricity (1874): An Act for the Encouragement and Aid of any Company now Incorporated, or that may be hereafter Incorporated, for the Transmission of Intelligence by Electricity (1874) “The Minister of the Interior is hereby authorized and empowered to permit and allow any Company now incorporated in any Foreign Country, or that may-be hereafter incorporated in this Kingdom or any Foreign Country, for the transmission of intelligence by electricity, to construct tines of Telegraph upon and along the highways and public roads and across the lands and waters of this Kingdom by the appropriation of any trees growing by nature, or by the erection of the necessary fixtures, including posts, piers, abutments, or bridges for sustaining the cords or wires of said lines; provided, the same shall not be so constructed as to incommode the public use of said road or highway, or injuriously interrupt the navigation of said waters.”

Inter-Island Cables (1888): “An Act to Authorize the Hawaiian Government to Contract for the construction of Inter-island Submarine Electric Telegraph Cables. … The Minister of the Interior, with the unanimous concurrence of the Cabinet, is hereby authorized to enter into a contract with J. Sherman Bartholomew, residing in Honolulu, H. I., his associates and assigns, or with any other persons or corporation, for the construction, laying or maintaining of a sub- marine electric telegraph cable or cables to connect the islands of the Hawaiian group, from Hawaii to Kauai, as follows, to wit: From Hawaii to Maui; from Maui to Oahu, with a landing on Molokai; and from Oahu to Kauai, together with lines of land telegraph to connect the same with all or any points on the Hawaiian Islands.”


Electricity (The Daily Bulletin, Sept. 18, 1886): “The Legislature 104th Day - Continued. Afternoon Session. Consideration of the Electric lights bill.”

Electricity (The Daily Herald, Nov. 16, 1886): “King Kalakaua is fifty years old today. … The Palace is beautifully decorated for the jubilee festivities ... Jubilations in song and dance began early and continued all night at the Palace Electric lights were glowing round the Palace last night and the gasoline lamps looked sick”

Electricity (The Daily Bulletin, Nov. 19, 1886): “The electric light, at the Palace, is the Thomson-Houson system, the patents on which arc dated 1879, '80, '83 and '81. There are ten arc lights of 2,000 candle power each, A supply of incandescent lights arrived by the steamer Wednesday. Mr. D. P. Smith is electrician, assisted by Mr. A. W. Smith. The last named gentleman had charge of the company's electric apparatus at the New Orleans, Philadelphia and Chicago exhibitions. The Messrs. Smith have also a variety of globes, in amber, canary, ruby, green, procelain, ground glass, clear glass and opal, which will be brought out in due time.”

Electricity (The Daily Bulletin, Mar. 18, 1887): “New engines having come by the Consuelo, the other day, for the Palace electric lights, and new houses having been built within the Palace grounds, and as preparations are being made to place the electric wires throughout the Palace interior”

Electricity (Hawaiian Gazette, July 27, 1886): “The Minister of Interior from the Printing Committee reported a bill to provide for lighting the city of Honolulu and its suburbs with arc and incandescent electric light granting a franchise for same for a period of fifteen years to D P Smith and associates”

Electricity (The Daily Bulletin, March 24, 1888): “Electric Lighting of Honolulu …  Punctually at 7 P.M. yesterday the Princess Liliuokalani and Princess Kaiulani, attended by His Excellency the Hon. L. A. Thurston, Minister of Interior, arrived at the Electric Light Station in the Valley and was there received by the Superintendent Mr. Faulkner and Mr. Eassic. …  In addition to the above, amongst others … Mr. Smith, an expert electrician and representative of the Thomson-Houston Company of America. …  A few minutes after 7, H. R. H. was accommodate with a chair for her feet and under the guidance of Mr. Superintendent Faulkner in full working costume connected the circuits mid had the honor of illumining the streets of Honolulu for the first time with the new light. … There are two circuits - a long and a short -run by the large and small dynamos respectively. The length of the Iong circuit is 15 miles, and that of the short 6 miles and over both of these Mr. Faulkner went yesterday. He started work at 6 yesterday morning and ended his labors at 11:15 last night. During that time he climbed 46 poles and he now rejoices in a pair of beautiful black ancles, they having been well bruised by the climbing spurs. He also enjoyed a shock while up one of the poles, and barely saved himself from falling. It is the heaviest he has ever experienced and he says he doesn't hanker after another.”


History of HECO: “Anyone who could afford to buy a generator was serviced by the firm of E.O. Hall & Son, which busily began installing small plants in Honolulu homes and at sugar plantations. In 1891, four men met to form the co-partnership that preceded Hawaiian Electric's incorporation, and E.O. Hall and Son were well represented. At the meeting were E.O. Hall's son, William, the manager of E.O.Hall & Son, Edwin Oscar White, the former manager of the Nuuanu plant, William V. Lockwood, and Jonathan Austin, in whose electric fan-cooled law office this fateful meeting took place. The co-partnership was registered on May 7, 1891. And just five months later -- on October 13, 1891 -- the co-partnership was dissolved and Hawaiian Electric Company was incorporated, with total assets of $17,000 and William W. Hall as its first President.”

The Hawaiian Gazette (Oct. 20, 1891): “Notice is hereby given that on the 12th day of October AD 1891 the Hawaiian Electric Company limited organized as an incorporated Joint Stock Company. That the Articles of Association and Affidavit required by law have been duly filed in the Office of the Minister of the Interior and the following named persons have been elected officers of the Corporation: William W Hall President, William V Lockwood Vice President, Jonathan Austin Treasurer, E O White Secretary, T. May Auditor”


An Act to Regulate and Control the Production and Furnishing of Electricity in Honolulu (Approved January 12, 1893).

SECTION 1. Wherever in this Act the word "Minister" is used, it shall mean the Minister of the Department of the Interior of this Kingdom. Wherever the word "Contractor" is used, it shall mean the purchaser of franchise hereinafter provided for, who has entered into a contract with the Minister of the Interior in accordance with the terms of this Act. …

SECTION 2. The Minister of the Interior is hereby directed to sell at public auction to the highest bidder as soon as the necessary arrangements can reasonably be made, the exclusive right and franchise to furnish and supply electric light and electric power, except as hereinafter provided, within the District of Honolulu, during the term of ten years from the date of such sale. In case there shall be no sale of such franchise the Minister may thereafter from time to time re-advertise the same for sale, in the manner hereinbefore set forth. The said Minister shall advertise the time, place and conditions of such sale, for not less than sixty days, in one or more news- papers published in Honolulu in the English language. …

SECTION 5. A contract shall be entered into between the Minister and the purchaser of such privilege. There shall be included in the terms of such contract, in addition to the other requirements herein contained, an agreement by the holder of the franchise, that within two years from the granting of such franchise such contractor shall be able to and will furnish to all applicants at any point within the following described district all the electric power and light which any applicant in such district may [want]. …

SECTION 7. The Minister is hereby authorized to make and from time to time change, amend, or add to, all rules regulating the placing of poles and wires, the insulation of wires and apparatus carrying the electric current, the maintenance in good repair of all poles, wires and apparatus, and generally concerning the manufacture and supply of electricity which may be necessary or proper for the public safety and welfare.

Such regulations shall, after publication, have the force of law.

Nothing herein contained, however, shall authorize the Minister to require the wires to be placed underground. …

SECTION 10. No one shall be allowed to place or maintain poles or wires in, upon or across any public street except such persons as are authorized by law so to do. Any person violating this Section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and be fined twenty-five dollars for each pole or wire so placed in violation hereof. The Minister may at any time cause such poles or wires to be removed at the expense of the person placing them in such position; but the penalty provided by this Section shall not be inflicted until after the expiration of three months from the date hereof. …

SECTION 11. The entire plant, operations, books and ac- counts of any contractor shall at all times be subject to the inspection of the Minister or such person as may be appointed by him for such purpose. …

SECTION 13. Nothing in this Act contained shall be construed to prohibit any person or corporation from erecting electric apparatus and producing electricity for either light or power for his or its own use upon the premises where produced. But any such plant so erected shall be subject to all of the regulations hereinbefore referred to; and shall be subject to the inspection and regulation of the Minister or such person as may be appointed by him for that purpose.

Nor shall anything herein contained be construed to prohibit the Hawaiian Tramways Company, Limited, under the franchise already granted to it from erecting a plant, poles and wires, subject to the inspection and regulations herein before provided for, for the purpose of furnishing power for the propulsion of its cars; or for making a contract with any one or more of the contractors to furnish it with such power for use on any of its tracks, whether the same is within the district of such contractor or not.

Nor shall anything in this Act contained be construed to prohibit the Government from furnishing to any part of Honolulu, electricity for light or power, produced by the power now obtained from the present water supply of the city, up to the capacity of the electric dynamos now owned by the Government. …

SECTION 14. The rates to be charged by the contractor shall not exceed the following rates   

SECTION 15. At the termination of the franchise granted hereunder, the Minister may take over on behalf of the Government all of the plant of the contractor upon payment to him of the value thereof. …

Section 16. In case the Hawaiian Electric Company Limited, shall not be the purchaser of such franchise, the thereof shall if so requested by said company within thirty days of such purchase, take over from such company
all of the plant now in use by such company, at its fair market value, taking into consideration a fair discount for wear and deterioration. …

Notice for the Sale of Electric Light and Power Franchise

“In accordance with the provisions of an Act entitled "An Act to regulate and control the production and furnishing of Electricity in Honolulu," approved January 12th, 1893, there will be sold at Public Auction, On WEDNESDAY, the 3d day of May, 1893, at 12 o'clock noon, at the front entrance of Aliiolani Hale, the exclusive right and franchise to furnish and supply electric light and electric power within the district of Honolulu during the term of ten (10) years from the date of such sale.

The following privileges are exempted from said franchise:

1st. The right of any person or corporation to erect electric apparatus and produce electricity for either light or power for his or its own use upon the premises where produced.

2d. The right of the Hawaiian Tramways Company, Limited, under the franchise already granted to it, to erect a plant, poles and wires for the purpose of furnishing power for the propulsion of its cars, or for making a contract with any one or more of the contractors to furnish it with such power for use on any of its tracks, whether the same is within the district of such contractors or not.

3d. The right of the Government to furnish to any part of Honolulu, electricity for light or power, produced by the power now obtained from the present water supply of the city, up to the capacity of electric dynamos now owned by the Government.

The sale of such franchise is subject to the Rules, Regulations, Inspection and Tariff of Bates to be charged to Consumers, as set forth in the said above-mentioned Act.”

# # #

Henry Curtis


Hi Henry, Thank you for providing this important research. Resourcing the history of Hawaiian energy technologies showcases the not only the brilliance (no pun intended) of the Kingdom, but also an inspiration as to where island technologies could lead the way for Renewable Energy Systems. It seems pretty clear that RES technologies like bio-fuels needs to consider bio-diversity, which is why I hope all cash crop initiatives like Palm Oil is left off the table.

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