Thursday, October 21, 1999

100 Who Made A Difference

Star Benjamin Franklin Dillingham Star

Star-Bulletin file photo
Benjamin F. Dillingham was on a fast track with
Oahu Railway and Land Co. in 1889.

‘Master builder’ put
rails on Oahu

By Peter Wagner


THEY laughed and called it "Dillingham's Folly."

But Benjamin Franklin Dillingham's dream of a railroad into the wilderness of West Oahu carried the promise of a sugar industry and major developments that would change Hawaii forever.

Visiting Honolulu as a young sailor in 1865, B.F. Dillingham broke his leg and was left behind by his ship. He decided to make a go of it.

Doubters were everywhere when Dillingham set out in 1880 to build a railroad from North King Street to the Waianae Coast, looping around Kaena Point to Haleiwa and Kahuku.

But with the help of King Kalakaua, who granted a royal franchise for the railway, Oahu Railway and Land Co. was inaugurated in 1889 with 179 miles of track.

It was a time in Hawaii when sandalwood forests were gone and whaling was on the wane. Sugar was in the offing.

There was little to haul initially, just some small crops of rice, fruit and firewood scattered along the Waianae coast.

Some 16,000 tons of freight was hauled by the fledgling OR&L in 1891, a figure that by 1929 grew to 100,000 tons.

With the railroad came expanded harbors to transport cargo hauled by the train. That gave rise to Hawaiian Dredging & Construction, a company that transformed Oahu by draining Waikiki's marshes for tourism, developing Pearl Harbor for military use and creating Honolulu Airport.

The two companies merged as Dillingham Corp. in 1961.

Dillingham's family helped him fulfill his dream: sons Walter F., Harold G. and Lowell S., for instance, became officers of Oahu Railway.

On his death in 1918 at age 74, Dillingham was hailed as a "master builder" and Honolulu's financial district closed its doors out of respect.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1999 Honolulu Star-Bulletin