In 1843, Samuel Thomas Alexander and Henry Perrine Baldwin, sons of pioneer missionaries, met in Lahaina, Maui. They grew up together, became close friends and went on to develop a sugar-growing partnership that spanned generations and left an indelible mark on Hawaii.
Alexander was the idea man, more outgoing and adventurous of the two. He had a gift for raising money to support his business projects. Baldwin was more reserved and considered the “doer” of the partners; he completed the projects conceived by Alexander.
After studying on the Mainland, Alexander returned to Maui and began teaching at Lahainaluna, where he and his students successfully grew sugar cane and bananas. Word of the venture spread to the owner of Waihee sugar plantation near Wailuku, and Alexander was offered the manager’s position. He hired Baldwin as his assistant, who at the time was helping his brother raise sugar cane in Lahaina. This was the beginning of a lifelong working partnership.
By 1869, the young men – Alexander was 33, Baldwin, 27 – were ready to launch their own business. Still working at Waihee, they purchased 12 acres of Bush Ranch in the Sunnyside area of Makawao on Maui for $110, to grow sugar cane. The following year, they paid $8,000 for an additional 559 acres. That same year, the partners planted sugar cane on their land marking the birth of what would become Alexander & Baldwin, Inc.
By 1876, the partners had expanded their sugar acreage and begun to seek a reliable source of water for their crop. Although not an engineer, Alexander devised an irrigation system that would bring water from the windward slopes of Haleakala to Central Maui to irrigate 3,000 acres of cane – their own and neighboring plantations. Baldwin oversaw the Hamakua Ditch project, known today as East Maui Irrigation Company (the oldest subsidiary of A&B), and within two years the ditch was complete. This system would later become a model for similar Hawaii irrigation projects.
Over the next thirty years, the two men became agents for nearly a dozen plantations and expanded their plantation interests by acquiring Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company and Kahului Railroad.
In 1883, Alexander and Baldwin formalized their partnership by incorporating their sugar business as the Paia Plantation also known at various times as Samuel T. Alexander & Co., Haleakala Sugar Co., and Alexander & Baldwin Plantation. By spring of 1900, A&B had outgrown its partnership organization and plans were made to incorporate the company, allowing the company to increase capitalization and facilitate expansion.
The Articles of Association and affidavit of the president, secretary and treasurer were filed June 30, 1900 with the treasurer of the Territory of Hawaii. Alexander & Baldwin, Limited became a Hawaii corporation, with its principal office in Honolulu and with a branch office in San Francisco. All the partnership’s assets, valued at $1.5 million, were transferred to the new corporation. Bylaws were adopted, and nine days later, at a special meeting of stockholders, the Board of Directors that consisted of Joseph P. Cooke, Wallace M. Alexander, James B. Castle, Henry Baldwin and Samuel Alexander (five former partners of A&B agency) elected Henry Baldwin president of the new company.
Shortly after, in 1904, Samuel Alexander passed away on one of his adventures. While hiking with his daughter to the edge of Victoria Falls, Africa, he was struck by a boulder. Seven years later, Baldwin passed away at the age of 68 from failing health.
What started off as partnership between two young men, with the purchase of 12 acres in Maui for $110, has grown into a business with $2.2 billion in assets, including approximately 87,000 acres of land. After the passing of the founders, Alexander & Baldwin continued to expand their sugar operations by acquiring additional land, developing essential water resources and investing in shipping to bring supplies to Hawaii and transport sugar to the U.S. Mainland markets. These resources, originally acquired for agricultural purposes, would eventually become the foundation of A&B’s strength and success today.