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Mystery of the "Sugar Cane" Clipper Covers

The Mystery of the "Sugar Cane" Clipper Covers

by Larry Weirather

Covers with the return address "Experiment Station of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association, Honolulu, Hawaii" are usually #10 size clipper covers flown between 1936 and the attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 Dec. 1941. They have a printed clipper cachet in the lower left hand corner, some headed east, others west. Most such covers are now in collections of Pacific air mails but occasionally they will still be found in dealers' boxes. It doesn't appear unusual, of course, that covers with this return address, Such as the one above, should be posted in Hawaii, with its concentrated production of sugar cane.

1941 Honolulu "Sugar Cane" cover
Why, though, are there covers such as this one, mailed at Midway and postmarked Honolulu on arrival, I Feb. 1940'? Why would an experiment station for the growing of sugar cane be on Midway? Midway had no soil other than the limited quantities brought in by ship. Other such covers posted at Canton Island have also been seen. Were these mailed by employees of the Hawaiian Sugar Planter's Association passing through or was something else going on? The answer is that something else was going on.
1941 Midway "Sugar Cane" cover
Establishment of the Pacific air mail route led to much concern on the part of sugar glowers in Hawaii. Pests that could threaten their sugar crop might be carried in from across the ocean on the clippers. To head off potential problems the growers established a station at Midway, and later another one at Canton Island. Experiment station personnel were located there to check incoming clippers and spray them, ensuring that there would be little chance of pests and diseases ever reaching Honolulu.

The first trained entomologist, F.C. Hadden, went to Midway in 1936, departing Honolulu 94 Nov. On the Philippine Clipper. Mr. Clark, the PAA hotel manager, arranged a room for Hadden in the radiomen's quarters. Later, a small laboratory was built for him on the screened porch of the radiomen's quarters.

Hadden met each clipper, sprayed it with insecticide, waited an hour, then collected all the dead critters on board. Collected specimens were sent to the experiment station in Honolulu for identification and preservation. Usually 15 to 20 insects of 5 to 6 species were found on each flight, but some Fights yielded as many as 1000 insects. Two hundred different species were found, most not native to Honolulu or the United States. The same procedures were used at Canton Island by entomologist Richard R. Danner, to prevent pests from entering from New Caledonia and New Zealand, when the South Pacific clipper route was opened.

1941 Honolulu-Manilla "Sugar Cane" CANEC cover
Plants from the Experiment Station, H.S.P.A. in Honolulu arrived at Midway on each flight of the clipper. These were planted in soil that had been imported to beautify the PAA base. And there was a small garden whose produce helped feed guests and employees. In the spring of 1937 Hadden relieved PAA gardener Steadman who returned to the States. With the help of a PAA Chamorro employee, and later still another, he took on PAA's gardening responsibilities at Midway. It was arduous work. Irrigation took place 19 to 14 hours a day. The two sprinklers had to be moved every half hour. Because Midway is all sand and suffers strong winds, plants were constantly being uncovered as the wind carved out the sand around the roots. Even PAA buildings rocked as their foundations were undermined with 3 to 4 toot sandblows. Unlike other guano islands of the Pacific, which had their own on-site sources of plant fertilizer, bird droppings on Midway were often simply blown away.
1941 Honolulu-NYC "Sugar Cane" CANEC cover The sugar cane crop wasn't the only beneficiary of Hadden's efforts. Quarantine measures that he instituted proved to be effective against the Anopheles mosquito which carried malaria. This was important from the very beginning, particularly to PAA employees east of Midway. Later, the benefits extended to the defense effort prior to and during World War II, when the work forces on island bases did not have to contend with loss of production due to malaria.

The experiment station covers remind us of a colorful phase in the development of air routes across the Pacific Ocean.

The primary source of information for this article is: Hadden, F.C. 'Midway Islands,' 'The Hawaiian Planters' Record, Vol. XLV, No. 3 (1941) 179-221

{Covers courtesy Larry Weirather}

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Updated 3 March 2003
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