Hawaii History

Historic Facts & Overview of Hawaii History

Take a peek at Hawaii history. Discover an overview of Hawaii's rich history, heritage, historic events, and culture.

Known as the "Aloha State" (in Hawaiian, "aloha" means "hello"), Hawaii is a group of volcanic islands in the central Pacific Ocean that together became the 50th state in 1959. The state's name is possibly derived from a native Hawaiian word for homeland, hawaiki or owhyhee. Today, Hawaii, whose capital is Honolulu, is often called the "Crossroads of the Pacific" and is a popular vacation spot. The colorful hibiscus is the state flower.

Overview of Hawaii History and Heritage

Hawaii Early Settlers and Explorers

During the 13th and 14th centuries, waves of immigrants from Tahiti overwhelmed and absorbed the original people. Since the earliest Hawaiians were possibly somewhat smaller than the later immigrants, they may form the basis for the legends of the menehunes, who were pictured by the later Hawaiians as hardworking elves.

The first known settlers of the Hawaiian Islands were Polynesian voyagers (the date of final migration is believed to be c.750). The islands were first visited by Europeans in 1778 by the English explorer Captain James Cook, who named them the Sandwich Islands for the English Earl of Sandwich. At that time the islands were under the rule of warring native kings.

It was a kingdom until 1775, when it was discovered by Captain James Cook and renamed the "Sandwich Islands" after the Earl of Sandwich; however as early as 1818, King Kamehameha I is reported to have protested, saying that each island should be called by its own name, and the entire group referred to as the "Islands of the Kingdom of Hawaii". But sometime after the beginning of the Christian era, Polynesians first set foot on these islands. Linguistic and cultural evidence suggest that the first inhabitants came from the Marquesas Group, to the north of Tahiti.

The Rule of Kamehameha I on Hawaii

In 1810 Kamehameha I (see under Kamehameha became the sole sovereign of all the islands, and, in the peace that followed, agriculture and commerce were promoted. As a result of Kamehameha's hospitality, American traders were able to exploit the islands' sandalwood, which was much valued in China at the time. Trade with China reached its height during this period. However, the period of Kamehameha's rule was also one of decline. Europeans and Americans brought with them devastating infectious diseases, and over the years the native population was greatly reduced. The adoption of Western ways - trading for profit, using firearms, and drinking liquor - contributed to the decline of native cultural tradition. This period also marked the breakdown of the traditional Hawaiian religion, with its belief in idols and human sacrifice; years of religious unrest followed.

Captain James Cook, the great Pacific explorer, happened upon the islands during his third voyage in 1778. Hawaii's long isolation ended at that moment. Soon, King Kamehameha the Great embarked on his successful campaign to unite the islands into one kingdom. At about the same time, Hawaii assumed importance in the east-west fur trade and later as the center for the Pacific whaling industry.

Influence of the Missionaries in Hawaii

When missionaries arrived in 1820 they found a less idyllic Hawaii than the one Captain Cook had discovered. Kamehameha III, who ruled from 1825 until his death in 1854, relied on the missionaries for advice and allowed them to preach Christianity. The missionaries established schools, developed the Hawaiian alphabet, and used it for translating the Bible into Hawaiian. In 1839, Kamehameha III issued a guarantee of religious freedom, and the following year a constitutional monarchy was established. From 1842 to 1854 an American, G. P. Judd, held the post of prime minister, and under his influence many reforms were carried out. In the following decades commercial ties between Hawaii and the United States increased.

Development of the Sugar Industry in Hawaii

In 1848 the islands' feudal land system was abolished, making private ownership possible and thereby encouraging capital investment in the land. By this time the sugar industry, which had been introduced in the 1830s, was well established. Hawaiian sugar gained a favored position in US markets under a reciprocity treaty made with the United States in 1875. The treaty was renewed in 1884 but not ratified. Ratification came in 1887 when an amendment was added giving the United States exclusive right to establish a naval base at Pearl Harbor. The amount of sugar exported to the United States increased greatly, and American businessmen began to invest in the Hawaiian sugar industry. Along with the Hawaiians in the industry, they came to exert powerful influence over the islands' economy and government, a dominance that was to last until World War II.

Change came at a rapid pace as both education and commerce assumed growing importance. The old Hawaiian culture disappeared rapidly under the onslaught of new ways, new peoples, and new diseases, to which the previously isolated Hawaiians were all too susceptible. Whaling and the provisioning of the whaling fleet brought new money to the island economy. At times, as many as 500 whaling ships wintered in Hawaiian ports, principally Lahaina and Honolulu.
In 1835, the first commercial production of sugar cane began and this crop took on ever-increasing economic importance, especially after the decline of the great whaling fleets. Native Hawaiians did not take kindly to the tedious labor of a plantation worker and, in any case, the native population had been seriously depleted by disease. Thus, there began the importation of labor from Asia and the Philippines and other areas of the world. It is this varied population that gave rise to the immense variety of Hawaii's present inhabitants.

Threatened constantly by European nations eager to add Hawaii to their empires, sugar planters and American businessmen began to seek annexation by the United State. This, too, would give them the advantages of a sugar market free of tariff duties. Finally, a treaty of reciprocity was negotiated in 1875 and this brought new prosperity to Hawaii. American wealth poured into the islands seeking investment.

The islands were officially granted their independence (after a brief usurpation) from Great Britain in 1843, and remained a sovereign kingdom until 1893, when the monarchy was overthrown by a group of American businessmen. Hawaii's last queen was Queen Liliuokalani, who wrote the now famous, Aloha 'Oe.

The Overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani and Annexation

In 1893, with Queen Liliuokalani on the throne, the Americans formed a Committee of Safety and declared the monarchy ended. In 1894, the Republic of Hawaii was established. On August 12, 1898, the government of the Republic transferred sovereignty to the United States. Hawaii became a territory of the United States in 1900.

Toward the end of the 19th cent., agitation for constitutional reform in Hawaii led to the overthrow (1893) of Queen Liliuokalani, who had ruled since 1891. A provisional government was established and John L. Stevens, the US minister to Hawaii, proclaimed the country a US protectorate. President Grover Cleveland, however, refused to annex Hawaii since most Hawaiians did not support a revolution; the Hawaiians and Americans in the sugar industry had encouraged the overthrow of the monarchy to serve their business needs.

The United States tried to bring about the restoration of Queen Liliuokalani, but the provisional government on the islands refused to give up power and instead established (1894) a republic with Sanford B. Dole as president. Cleveland's successor, President William McKinley, favored annexation, which was finally accomplished in 1898.

Hawaii was a native kingdom throughout most of the 19th century, when the expansion of the vital sugar industry (pineapple came after 1898) meant increasing US business and political involvement. In 1893, Queen Liliuokalani was deposed and a year later the Republic of Hawaii was established with Sanford B. Dole as president. Then, following its annexation in 1898, Hawaii became a US territory in 1900.

In 1900 the islands were made a territory, with Dole as governor. In this period, Hawaii's pineapple industry expanded as pineapples were first grown for canning purposes. In 1937 statehood for Hawaii was proposed and refused by the US Congress - the territory's mixed population and distance from the US mainland were among the obstacles.

World War II and Hawaii Statehood

The pattern of growth then began to accelerate even more rapidly. The US Navy set up its giant Pacific headquarters at Pearl Harbor and the Army built a huge garrison at Schofield Barracks. Pineapple, other crops, cattle ranching, and tourism slowly began to take on greater importance in the island economy.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese aircraft made a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, plunging the United States into World War II. During the war the Hawaiian Islands were the chief Pacific base for US forces and were under martial law (Dec. 7, 1941-Mar., 1943).

The postwar years ushered in important economic and social developments. There was a dramatic expansion of labor unionism, marked by major strikes in 1946, 1949, and 1958. The International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union organized the waterfront, sugar, and pineapple workers. The tourist trade, which had grown to major proportions in the 1930s, expanded further with postwar advances in air travel and with further investment and development. The building boom brought about new construction of luxury hotels and housing developments; Hawaii is home to one of the world's most expensively built resort, the Hyatt Regency Waikola, which cost $360 million to construct.

After having sought statehood for many decades, Hawaii was finally admitted to the union on Aug. 21, 1959; although it was thought at first to be solidly Republican, the state has long been a Democratic stronghold. Movements for a return of some sort of native sovereignty have been periodically active.

In Sept., 1992, the island of Kauai was devastated by Hurricane Iniki, the strongest hurricane to hit the islands in the century. Hawaii, which had enjoyed sustained economic and population growth since the end of World War II, saw both slow in the 1990s, as tourism, the sugar industry, and Japanese investment in the islands (particularly important in the 1980s) declined.

Hawaii, 2,397 miles west-southwest of San Francisco, is a 1,523-mile chain of islets and eight main islands - Hawaii, Kahoolawe, Maui, Lanai, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai, and Niihau. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, other than Midway, are administratively part of Hawaii.

The postwar period saw many rapid changes with the descendants of plantation laborers rising to the highest prominent in business, labor, and government.

Hawaii proved eager to take on the full responsibilities of statehood. Under the leadership of Hawaii's last delegate to Congress, John A. Burns, the 86th Congress approved statehood and the bill was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on March 18, 1959. Hawaii was admitted as the 50th state of the union on August 21, 1959.

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