Today, a machine keeps a gentle land from being
gobbled up -- but only for a while. The University
of Houston's College of Engineering presents this
series about the machines that make our
civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity
In 1951, a young woman took
me to a fancy luau at the University of Oregon. It
was peculiar culture shock for me. Half the college
students from Hawaii studied in Oregon. My
left-brain focus was ill-fitted to the easy-going
rhythm of the event. I still had much to learn.
Ukeleles and steel guitars nattered on cheerfully
in 8/8 time. Everyone wore shorts or muumuus. And
the food! It was roast pork and pineapple -- poi
washed down with pineapple -- pineapple juice and
gin. I never saw so much pineapple.
Less than sixty years before, Queen Liliuokalani
had ruled Hawaii. She was a poet and composer, but
not much of a manager. Hawaiian and American
members of the so-called Annexation Club managed to
depose her and ask the United States to annex
Hawaii became a U.S. Territory in 1900. The
mainland was a huge market for her pineapples and
sugar. She became a market for our manufactured
Now think about the armor-plated pineapple. A
skilled operator, with coring and slicing
machinery, could cut up 10 or 15 a minute.
Pineapple canning was absolutely limited by the
rate a human could core, peel, juice, and slice a
pineapple. And then, all the juice near the skin
In 1911, James Dole of Dole pineapple fame went to
a Hawaiian designer named Henry Ginaca. He asked
for a machine that could do all that. Ginaca
provided the first so-called "Ginaca Machine" that
With Ginaca's creation, pineapple through-flow
jumped to 50 a minute. By 1925, improvements had
increased that to 105 a minute. And machines made
in 1925 are still in use today.
The 1925 Ginaca Machine is a wonderful complex
thing. It's a profusion of gears, chains, cams,
cutters, and corers. Few engines of our ingenuity
reach their final form as quickly as this one did.
Nor can you find many machines that affect a place
so profoundly. They gave the Islands financial
strength. Now, of course, Hawaii has all but quit
growing pineapples. She has, instead, sold herself
I realize now that the luau I went to in Oregon was
the last real Hawaiian luau I would ever see. From
now on, the Islands themselves will be defined by
Japanese and American tourists with no more innate
sense of repose than I had in 1951.
Once those machines allowed Hawaii to define
herself. Now the last Ginaca machines, still
chopping up a few remaining pineapples, are
historical curiosities. An era has ended.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
The Ginaca machine is described in an
Historical Mechanical Engineering Designation
Nomination form prepared by J. Grogan of the
Hawaii ASME Section. The ASME is now in the process
of designating the Ginaca Machine as an
I am grateful to the Rev. E. Joan Lepley, who was
raised among the Hawaiian pineapple canneries. She
provided first-hand comments and expertise. Then
she added this: "When I started to think about
those machines again, the machine form did not come
back, but the smell of fresh pineapple, the racket,
and the warmth all came back -- as well as the
sight of stacks of boxes of freshly picked fruit,
and the conveyor belt that took the processed
pineapple down the line of women workers. Lines of
ultra-shiny cans clattering along... (pineapple
requires super-tinned cans because it is so highly
acidic)... stacks of colorful labels... flapping
cardboard forms into boxes ..."
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-1997 by John H.
For a full-size image,
click the thumbnail to the left.
Patent drawing of the Ginaca machine
Episode | Search Episodes |