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Parker Ranch is the largest privately owned ranch in the United States and a major landowner on the island of Hawaii. If you’re wondering who owns this expansive cattle operation, read on to learn about the ranch’s ownership history.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Parker Ranch is currently majority owned by the charitable Parker Ranch Foundation Trust, which works to support educational, medical, cultural, and other charitable causes on Hawaii Island.

The Early History of Parker Ranch

Founding of Parker Ranch

Parker Ranch was founded in 1847 when John Palmer Parker, an American sailor originally from Massachusetts, jumped ship and settled on the Big Island of Hawaii. He married a Hawaiian chiefess named Kipikane and was given two acres of land in the Mauna Kea region to start a cattle ranch.

Over the next few decades, Parker expanded his land holdings through additional land leases and acquisitions. By the 1860s, Parker Ranch encompassed thousands of acres across the slopes of Mauna Kea and was running over 12,000 head of cattle.

It rapidly grew into one of the largest and most successful ranching operations in Hawaii.

Control Passed to the Parker Family

When John Palmer Parker passed away in 1868 at the age of 47, control of Parker Ranch passed to his son John Palmer Parker II. He had been sent to elite boarding schools abroad for his education and returned to successfully manage and expand Parker Ranch.

In 1902, control of Parker Ranch shifted again when John Palmer Parker II passed away unexpectedly. His second cousin Alfred Wellington Carter had previously managed small parts of the Parker Ranch land.

After John Palmer Parker II’s passing, Carter played an integral role in maintaining and expanding the family business. So critical were his efforts that in 1937, as a mark of gratitude, John Palmer Parker II’s widow passed control of Parker Ranch operations to Carter.

For the first time since establishment, the ranch operations were not managed by someone with the Parker name. However, shares of the land still remained within the Parker family.

Modern Ownership and Management

Formation of the Parker Ranch Foundation

In 1992, the trustees of the Parker Ranch estate formed the nonprofit Parker Ranch Foundation to manage the ranch’s cultural and natural resources. This allowed the ranch to focus on maintaining its cattle operations while still preserving its vast historical assets.

The Foundation set up an archive to store over 250,000 documents and artifacts related to the ranch’s long history. This includes things like maps, letters, diaries, photographs, books, and furniture. The archive is open to researchers interested in studying the multicultural history of the ranch and its influence on the development of the Waimea area.

Current Operations and Plans

Today, Parker Ranch continues to run a large cattle operation on over 150,000 acres of land. While the dairy operations have ceased, the ranch still maintains breeding herds and finishes cattle for local beef production. Recent estimates put the herd size at over 12,000 head of cattle.

The Parker Ranch Foundation also manages a forestry program that generates sustainable koa and sandalwood timber and plants native trees to reforest portions of the land. Preserving open space and watershed resources continues to be a priority.

Looking ahead, the trustees hope to launch new diversified operations that build on the ranch’s legacy. For example, they have discussed starting guided historical tours, opening a museum, and building nature trails to share more of Hawaii’s culture and natural beauty with visitors.

Other Major Parker Ranch Owners

Over its long history, Parker Ranch has had several other notable owners who left their mark on the storied cattle empire:

John Palmer Parker

John Palmer Parker, an entrepreneur from Massachusetts, married one of the great-granddaughters of John Parker in the late 1860s. He invested heavily in Parker Ranch operations and land acquisitions, helping to expand the ranch’s holdings to over 250,000 acres at its peak.

Under his leadership, Parker Ranch became one of the largest and most prosperous ranches in Hawaii.

Richard Smart

Richard Smart, an experienced cattleman from Australia, was brought in to serve as manager of Parker Ranch in the 1930s. He modernized operations and improved cattle breeding programs. Smart eventually leased a portion of Parker Ranch lands and built his own ranching empire in Hawaii.

Today, this enterprise is known as Parker Ranch Inc.

The Rice Family

In the 1930s, Parker Ranch heiress Ann S. Thelma Parker married Harry F. Rice. Their son R .Randolph Rice later inherited a portion of Parker Ranch lands from his mother’s side. For decades, the Rice family maintained control of significant Parker Ranch acreage and assets.

Owner Year Acquired Impact on Parker Ranch
John Palmer Parker Late 1860s Greatly expanded land holdings and operations
Richard Smart 1930s Modernized cattle operations and breeding programs
Rice Family 1930s-1990s Maintained control of Parker Ranch lands for decades

While the Parker and Rice families maintained control of core Parker Ranch assets for over a century, other investors and managers also left their mark in shaping Parker Ranch into the cattle empire it remains today.

The Scale and Impact of Parker Ranch

Land Holdings and Operations

Parker Ranch is one of the largest private landowners in the United States, with around 130,000 acres across the island of Hawaii. Their vast land holdings support cattle ranching operations on a huge scale, with over 15,000 mother cows and over 100 bulls.

Parker Ranch’s operations have a significant impact on the landscape and economy of Hawaii Island. Their cattle utilize extensive grazing lands across the island, some of which are environmentally sensitive areas.

Maintaining productive pastureland also requires activities like fencing, irrigation, and soil management over extremely large areas.

Influence on Hawaii Island

As one of the oldest and largest companies in Hawaii, Parker Ranch has had an outsized influence on the culture and history of Hawaii Island. At its peak, Parker Ranch was the largest employer on the island, providing jobs for thousands of paniolo (Hawaiian cowboys).

Parker Ranch paniolo are credited with developing the distinctive culture, food, music and traditions of the Hawaiian cowboy.

Parker Ranch also owned important historic structures across the island like Mana House and Puuopelu Church. Many towns and communities in central Hawaii Island grew out of or around Parker Ranch lands and operations.

The scale of their operations and the longevity of their influence is truly unique among private U.S. enterprises.


In summary, Parker Ranch is primarily owned today by the public-benefit Parker Ranch Foundation Trust, which uses ranch profits to support community causes on Hawaii Island. But the storied, 250-year-old ranch has passed through various private owners in its long history as one of Hawaii’s great landholding institutions.

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