The Dole Flyers

My neighbor, Jim, had me over to show me an old album that his uncle had left behind. I’m not quite sure what to expect but since it was of old Hawaii I was anxious to take a look. He opens this brown leather, hand tooled album and lo and behold there is Oahu circa 1920’s. Page after page of an island that has long disappeared.

I’m totally mesmerized. Waikiki with no hotels, outer island shots of the volcano eruptions, Molokai Hanson’s disease colony, and air planes in formation over miles of green land.

Jim asked me if I think the Museum would want it? “Well, I’m not sure but I will find out. But can I have your permission to scan the album first so that I can have some of these old photos?” He tells me fine. Off I go. The next day I can hardly wait to get to the museum to show my friends. We ooh and awe over the photos.

I take the album home and start to scan. Meanwhile my scanner breaks down. I have to get a new one and I’m totally mystified as to how to use it. Well, one year later after only scanning half of it, my neighbor says, “Have you taken the album to the museum yet?” Sheepishly I have to tell him no.

But I promise to do it this week. And I did. I’ve been working in the archives volunteering to help record incoming collections. DeSoto Brown, the collections manager opens it. He is even more excited than I was. But best of all he give me the history of the photos!

And here is a little bit of that history I wanted to pass on to you.

Among the photos are these wonderful maps. I thought of them as tourist maps and did not fully understand the whole of them. But DeSoto points out a little detail on the one above. A detail I would not have known the first thing about if he had not told me.

If you go up to the map above and look for the island of Oahu. Double click on it to make it larger. At the top of Oahu you will see an arrow and wording, ‘Schofield  Barracks” and under that it says something about the Dole Fliers.

Then DeSoto moves ahead a few pages and shows me a photo of a plane I’ve looked at several times. He said this plane was one of the Dole Fliers. I had no idea what he was talking about.  He went on to explain how in the 1920’s when Lindberg flew the Atlantic from New York to Paris it started a trend.

Here in Hawaii, James D. Dole of Dole pineapple decided he wanted to get in on the action. So on Aug. 16 1927 Dole offered a $25,000 dollar prize for the first person to fly from California to Hawaii and $10,000 to the second person to make it here.

The race was on and 14 planes revved up their engines and entered the race. At that time flying was in its infancy and most were ill prepared to take on such a challenge. But a $25,000 prize that in modern-day times amounted to more than a million dollars was quite a carrot. The race was nicknamed The Dole Derby.

As the planes took off a few never made it off the land before crashing or mechanical problems set in. Those that made it over the ocean had their problems too. Unfortunately some of them disappeared. One of the planes that had engine problems finely re-entered the race three days later in order to try to find those planes that had gone down over the ocean. It too disappeared.

But two planes did make it. The first to make it was the “Woolaroc,” winning the $25,000 prize.  Which brings me to the plane that had mystified me. The “Aloha.”

This plane had been purchased at the cost of $15,000 dollars. I wonder if it was a typo? The Aloha, a monoplane, came in second for the total prize of $10,000. But then there was the glory of being the second civilian to ever cross the Pacific. As visa would say, priceless.

The above photo was hand painted so the color is not the actual color of the plane. It was lemon yellow, and the red you see going around the front, was a pink lei that had been painted on their. In the photo it looks like the cellophane that goes around a cigarette package.

The mystery was solved. I was thrilled to hear the history behind the photo and other photos too and very happy to come home and relay the news as to how Jim’s photo album was received.

Some trivia. Out of the 14 planes that entered the race, 10 people were killed and only two planes made it.

The cost of the search for the planes that went down cost $125,000 dollars in fuel by the Navy. To feed the 8,000 men who did the searching was $40,000.

Here are a couple of sites I checked out while writing this article that I think you will find very interesting.

news article

After going through this album, it brought home how important it is to write information under the photos. It isn’t everyday that you will have a historian go through one of the old family albums and tell you stories of just how important a photo is.


14 comments on “The Dole Flyers

  1. This was so cool to read! I love history and discovering new things like that! How great that you get to work at the museum – that must be a lot of fun. Really enjoyed this post!


    • I was saying to one of the docents today how enjoyable it was being a volunteer at the Bishop. We have met so many people who are politicians, artist, professors and world travelers. We’ve been privileged to experience firsthand Hawaiian performances that you don’t see at any “Luau” Here is a post I did about experiencing such an event when the Three Ku were together for the first time in over 100 years.”No Photos Please”>


  2. Very interesting, Karen. And I am so interested in old photos from different places. They tell a lot, and they often hace such a beauty. It is important to give such things to museums, if there is a serious museum.


  3. Janice says:

    Fascinating story, Karen. I knew nothing about the Dole Fliers – and wonder if it was worth it given that so many people died and then so much more money than the prize was spent in searching for them… However, as a photographic archive your neighbour’s album is precious indeed. And I do agree with all the thoughts you and your other commenters have expressed on the topic of photos. I have a reasonable sized collection of old family photos myself that I’m gradually scanning and passing on to my nephews / brother (my own sons are not yet at an age to show much interest) along with all the info I’ve been able to put together.
    wishing you a happy week!


    • Thanks for stopping by Janice. I didn’t know anything about them either until the archivist started looking through the book and explaining things that were in the photos. It was fascinating. There was just a piece on Public Radio and how much rescues are costing. We have a lot of rescues of people off of water falls an mountain climbing. I know they are supposed to pay the bill but I doubt if any can afford to. It’s in the thousands.


  4. Sartenada says:

    As an ex-airline worker I was very enthusiastic about that old air plane. Cool! Thank You very much..


  5. Truly wonderful map, a form of art that you rarely see outside of museums and libraries. I love that the story of that important moment in history was not lost, in these days of cheap flights it is easy to forget just how dangerous flying once was. Thank you for sharing, I’ve enjoyed reading about the Dole Fliers.


  6. megtraveling says:

    What a wonderful keepsake! And thank you for sharing it here, too 🙂


  7. Karen, what a wonderful story! Thanks so much for sharing!
    What I really wonder is, what will survive of the zillions of photos we take every day? They are ephemeral and gone in the click of a button. What will our children actually know of the world as it was when we were here?
    Food for thought…


    • Someone at the archive exclaimed how interesting what people take photos of or how they pose. He thought how telling it could be if we could take one family and organize photos from one generation to the next just to look at the differences. That Kodak moment is truly priceless. Thanks for stopping by,


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