Puna’s Volcano Water

Ancient Hawaiians drank water from the Waiwelawela spring, a hot spring in Puna, Big Island, as a remedy. Hawaiian chiefs bathed in the water as a cure for rheumatism and muscle issues.

Reportedly, the water came from Mauna Loa Volcano’s snowy summit five miles away. The water would enter a broken strata and fall into multiple streams near the volcano. There, the floor would boil the water with the mineral salts from the streams and rocks and end up in a main underground river, Kawaiakekua (Water of the Gods). In turn, Kawaiakekua fed the Waiwelawela spring.

In 1902, businessman Henry Lafayette Williams “[discovered] … the medicinal merits of the waters …” Then Williams, Fred E. Haley, and Cecil Brown decided to sell Kawaiakekua’s water as “Volcano Mineral Water” and “Kawaiakeakua Volcano Waters,” the only bottled volcano water in the world and the only bottled mineral water from Hawaii.

As Williams was a brother in an Elks Lodge in Hilo, it described his “celebrated Volcano water of rare medicinal qualities” as

“pumped from subterranean rivers in the lava district of Puna. These viands and liquids were kept at the freezing point by great quantities of snow from the table-land of Manua Loa, a cool retreat at a high altitude…”

After receiving the report about the water’s chemical makeup, Williams obtained a 30-year lease for 700 acres of land from Rufus Anderson Lyman. The land included the spring, the entrance to the underground river, and the surrounding land to discourage others from tapping the river. Upland, Williams planned to grow sisal, a fiber plant (the original reason why he came to Puna).

In March 1902, the company sent its first shipment of water, barrels with 6,000 gallons, to Honolulu. There, Fountain Soda Works bottled the water. Then H. Hackfeld & Co. distributed the bottles throughout Hawaii and filled “large orders” from New York and other eastern cities.

A bottling plant in Puna filled small orders to the mainland. With a twelve-horse power gasoline engine, the “biggest [bottling plant] on the Islands” could prepare up to 24,000 bottles a day. Led by Haley, eight employees worked in the plant.

The bottles of volcano water debuted in Honolulu grocery stores in July 1902. In the same month, Hawaii’s first farmers’ fair displayed a bottle in an exhibit of products made in Hawaii.

The water has been described as “warm” with a “somewhat sulphurous taste.”

The volcano water company ran ads in English and Hawaiian-language newspapers in Hawaii. The ads claimed people have used the mineral water as a cure for kidney ailments and listed the chemicals in the water: solids, chlorine, sulphuric acid, lime, magnesia, silica, and chlorine calculated.A case for 100 bottles (pints) sold for $8 each, and a case of 50, $4 each. Later, a dozen of bottles sold for 65 cents each.

In June 1902, the Enterprise ship delivered 75,000 bottles to the U.S. West Coast.

By the end of 1902, the demand for the water exceeded supply. Thus, the Puna plant had to increase its production rate from 8,000 bottles a day.

However, even with the ad campaign, this business venture did not gain enough loyal customers and lost thousands, possibly up to thirty thousand dollars. Direct competitors included bottled spring water from the mainland. Indirect competitors included sodas (e.g. ginger ale, lemon soda, root beer, cream soda) and beer (e.g. Primo Beer was seen as a safer and healthier alternative to tap water).

Cecil Brown

After the venture’s two-year run, Haley would leave to become a coffee agriculturalist on an estate on Kauai.  Brown, also a state legislator, would sue Williams to end their partnership. A few months later, a judge granted Brown’s request and appointed J. E. Elderts to auction the business’ leasehold and equipment in Hilo.

In the end of November 1904, Brown sailed on the ship Kinau to Hilo to close up the water company. A few days later, Elderts auctioned off the business, and the partnership was officially dissolved.

As for Williams, he didn’t let this failed venture discourage him. Afterwards, he obtained a law license in Puna and practiced law in the district court.

A few years later, leaving his wife and toddler son in Hawaii, Williams and J.R. Wilson (formerly of the Volcano Stables) moved to San Francisco and sold real estate. Williams then moved to Alberta, Canada, to bore for oil at Edmonton. People from Hilo joined his venture (a prominent lawyer and one or two investors), but it failed. The last that was heard of him was he went to Tonopah during a “boom,” and his two workers in Edmonton were successfully mining gold.

Four years after the volcano water business ended, Williams’ wife sued for divorce.  Jane “Jennie” Williams (née Douglas) was still raising their five-year-old son Henry K. Williams. But it was not obvious whether her husband was still financially supporting her or even communicating with her. Afterwards, Jane Williams married two more times.

While this first attempt to sell Kilauea’s volcano water failed, it was not the last. Today, at least two businesses tap Kilauea’s underground rivers to sell locally and internationally.

– Alice Kim

Related Pages

Hawaii Groundwater & Geothermal Resources Center
Jules Tavernier, the Volcano Artist
Volcanoes and Hawaii Newspapers

Articles from Chronicling America

“Will Ship Water from Hawaii’s Underground River and Grow Sisal Plants on the Uplands”
The Pacific commercial advertiser., January 28, 1902, Image 9

“Puna Water: Shipment of 6,000 Gallons for Bottling at Honolulu”
Hilo tribune, March 14, 1902, Image 4

Kawaiakeakua Volcano Water
The Hawaiian star, March 17, 1902, Page 7

“Local Items”
Hilo tribune, March 21, 1902, Image 5

“Lodge of Elks Founded at Hilo”
Hilo tribune, March 21, 1902, Image 1

“Local Brevities (seventh entry)
The Pacific commercial advertiser, June 10, 1902, Page 7

“‘Kawaiakeakua’ Mineral Water”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, July 21, 1902, Page 7

“Cecil Brown on Hilo: Visits the Puna Mineral Springs and Is Pleased”
Hilo tribune, July 18, 1902, Image 8

“Farmers’ Fair Great Success”
The Hawaiian gazette, July 29, 1902, Image 1

“Kawaiakeakua Water”
Hilo tribune, December 26, 1902, Image 8
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82016339/1902-12-26/ed-1/seq-8/#date1=12%2F01%2F1902&index=1&date2=12%2F31%2F1902&searchType=advanced&language=&sequence=0&lccn=sn82016339&words=William+Williams&proxdistance=5&state=Hawaii&rows=20&ortext=williams&proxtext=&phrasetext=&andtext=&dateFilterType=range&page=1“Kawaiakekua Water”
Evening bulletin, February 3, 1903, Page 5

“Business Locals”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, June 13, 1903, Page 9

“Notice of Dissolution of Partnership”
Hilo tribune, January 1, 1904, Image 1

“Local Items”
Hilo tribune, May 6, 1904, Page 5


“Volcano Water Trouble”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, July 4, 1904, Page 8

“Condensed Local Items”
Hilo tribune, September 13, 1904, Page 5

“Receiver’s Sale”
Hilo tribune, October 11, 1904, Image 1

“Local Brevities”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, November 30, 1904, Page 9

“Reminder of Hankey”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, February 14, 1906, Image 8

“Volcano Water Man Sued for Divorce”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, April 29, 1908, Page 11