The 1880s was a period of rapid growth for the sugar industry, building upon the momentum triggered by the Māhele of 1848, the Kuleana Act of 1850, and the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875. Imported labor, particularly from China, Portugal and Japan, fueled this growth. While Chinese laborers had arrived in 1852 and accounted for 58% of Hakalau's labor force by 1887, the opportunities for further Chinese immigration were limited by the influence of the US Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Plantations turned to Portugal and Japan for laborers. For Hakalau, telephone service began and mail service, increasing in volume with the growth of the plantation, was a source of complaint. By the end of the decade, homesteads started to become available, an attraction for immigrants to settle permanently. The mongoose was imported to kill rats in the cane fields, with disastrous consequences to native birds and animals quickly apparent.
- The City Directory of 1880 describes the Hakalau Sugar Mill and Plantation:
Hakalau, 14 miles from Hilo; post office address, Hilo Road, Hakalau; proprietors, Claus Spreckels & Co.; managers, H. Morrison and C. Liman; agents in Honolulu, W. G. Irwin & Co. Own 9,000 acres, 430 acres under cultivation; available for sugar planting, 1,480 acres. Capacity of mill, about 15 tons per diem. Estimated yield of sugar for 1880, 800 tons. Men employed, 300; mules, 40; oxen, 10 yoke; horses, 10. This plantation stands with the others on the Islands first on the list. All the modern improvements, both as regards the mill and the plantation, are of the very best character; and the appearance of all the surroundings denote that all is done in the best possible manner by the managers to forward the interest of their employers. No expense is spared to carry on the work as it should be. The mill and buildings are now (April, 1880) drawing toward completion; and the mill, when completed, will rank first on the list with any on the Hawaiian Islands. The facilities for transporting the cane to the mill is of the very best description, and Mr. Claus Spreckels is proving himself to be the right man in the right place, as an A No.1 sugar planter.
- Telephone service is extended from Hilo to Hakalau. (Evening Bulletin, July 17, 1882, p.2)
- In 1882, although Hawai'i was still ruled as an independent kingdom, the U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act put a damper on the flow of Chinese to the Islands. Plantations recruited new workers from Japan instead.
- The City Directory of 1884 describes the Hakalau Plantation Company:
HAKALAU PLANTATION CO, Hugh Morrison and Christian Lehmann managers, Wm G Irwin & Co agents Honolulu, Hakalau, Hilo District, post-office same, 1,500 acres, 1,800 under cultivation, estimated yield for 1884 1,800 tons, 1885 2,500 tons: two mills, capacity 10 and 14 tons respectively, men employed 187, a system of fluming used.
- Japanese Immigration: Between 1869 and 1885 Japan barred emigration to Hawaii in fear that Japanese laborers would be degrading to the reputation of the Japanese race, as had occurred with the Chinese according to the point of view of the Japanese government. The ban on immigration was eventually lifted in 1885. The first 153 Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaii on February 8, 1885 as contract laborers for the sugarcane and pineapple plantations.
- The City Directory of 1888 describes the Hakalau Plantation Company:
Hakalau Plantation Co., Christian Lehman, manager 2,800 acres under cane, two mills with twelve and sixteen tons per diem capacity; yield for 1888, 3,600 tons sugar. Post Office, Hakalau.