Hawaii History - How Paradise Came to Be
The Hawaiian Islands; a land full of history, culture, and romance.
The history of the islands started long before they became the paradise we know today. Hawaii is made up of eight major islands, plus smaller islands and atolls that spawned from volcanic activity and span around 1,500 miles. The earliest known habitation by humans in Hawaii was believed to be Polynesian settlers from the Marquesas Islands.
The history of the Hawaiian Islands has some ugly points - but it is a history that anyone moving to Hawaii should be familiar with.
Before Paradise - Hawaii's Geographic History
The Hawaiian archipelago consists of a series of volcanic islands in the Pacific Ocean, roughly 2,000 miles from the mainland United States. These islands come from a chain of volcanoes that formed along a stationary hot spot along the bottom of the ocean, where rock is melted into magma. The eight main islands that make up the state of Hawaii are made up of the fifteen youngest shield volcanoes in the Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain.
Only a handful of these are still active, with Big Island and Maui being the only habitable islands that have magma flows. Mount Kilauea on Big Island is one of the youngest and most active Hawaiian volcanoes. It’s most recent eruption began in September of 2021 and is still continuing. The Hawaiian government has livestreams set up, allowing people around the world to view the lava flow as it happens.
Some of the oldest volcanoes are on Oahu - Ko’olau Range, Waianae Range, and Ka’ena Ridge are the eroded remains of shield volcanoes millions of years old. Diamond Head on Oahu is a famous volcanic tuff cone that was used as a military installation during WWII.
Early Settlers In Hawaii
The Hawaiian Islands are believed to have first been populated around 3,000 years ago, when Polynesians arrived at the islands after navigating the ocean using the stars. The history of the Hawaiian Islands was largely marked by a steady growth in population and interspersed wars between the islands and various communities.
1778 - European Arrival
In 1778 Capt. James Cook landed at Waimea Bay on Kauai and was the first known European contact with the Hawaiian people. He proceeded to sail southward and further explored the islands over the coming year. During this time, Cook and his men took temple idols and fencing to use as firewood - prompting a minor chief to seize a longboat. This resulted in Cook abducting the King of Hawaii Island, Kaleiopuu, in an attempt to ransom him back for the ship.
After a heated exchange and aggressive confrontation, Cook was fatally stabbed and a a violent, close-quarters melee ensued between the locals and Cook’s men. Four sailors were killed during the retreat. This incident is one of the most prominent pivot points in Hawaiian history.
1795 - King Kamehameha The Great
Towards the end of the 18th century, all inhabited islands in Hawaii were brought under the subjugation of a single ruler - King Kamehameha the Great. Waging a 15 year campaign, King Kamehameha used western weapons and advisors to take both Oahu and Maui. He failed to secure a victory on Kauai due to storm and sickness, but in 1810 the chief of Kauai swore allegiance to Kamehameha.
This kingdom gained recognition from major European powers and lasted until 1887. Cook’s visit and the subsequent publication of several books relating to his voyages led to a slew of European and American visitors during this time period. The once isolated islands had no resistance to the European diseases brought by these visitors and the population dropped over the century. During the 1850s, a fifth of Hawaii’s people were killed by measles.
1872 - Elections
After the death of King Kamehameha V in 1872, a popular election was held resulting in the popular election of Lunalilo over Kalakaua. Lunalilo died the following year, and in 1874 another election was held with contested results between Kalakaua and Emma, Queen Consort of Kamehameha IV. After riots broke out and were quelled, Kalakaua was chosen by the Legislative Assembly by a vote of 39 to 6 and was elected the last king and penultimate monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
He reigned from 1874 until his death, though his power was much diluted. In 1887, he was forced to sign a new Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii that stripped the king of much of his authority and reduced the position to mostly a figurehead. When Kalakaua died in 1891, his sister Queen Lili’uokalani succeeded him.
1894 - Queen Lili'uokalani
Queen Lili’uokalani was the last monarch of Hawaii. In 1893, she announced plans for a new constitution that would proclaim herself as an absolute monarch. Instead, a group of Euro-American business leaders and residents formed the Committee of Safety. They staged a coup against the kingdom, seeking annexation by the United States. Days later, the monarchy was overthrown and replaced by a provincial government composed of members of the Committee of Safety.
The Queen tried to regain her throne but was unsuccessful - only causing controversy in the following years. Lawyer Sanford B Dole, a citizen of Hawaii, became president of the Republic of Hawaii. The queen was arrested and later pardoned, after which, the US president-elect in 1896 advocated annexing the Republic of Hawaii. By 1900, the Organic Act established the territory of Hawaii.
1901 - First Hotel In Hawaii
In 1901, the first hotel was built on Waikiki Beach. The Moana Hotel was affectionately named the “First Lady of Waikiki”. Things were still not the tropical vacation spot we’ve known for the last few decades but were definitely getting there. Despite several attempts to become a state in the early 1900s, Hawaii remained a territory for 60 years.
1941 - Pearl Harbor
The day that will live in infamy - on December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. This launched the US into World War II, which lasted another four years for America. On September 2, 1945, Japan signed its unconditional surrender on the USS Battleship Missouri. The ship is part of the Museum and Memorial complex at Pearl Harbor and is visited by millions every year.
1959 - Hawaii Becomes A State
In 1959, Hawaii finally became the 50th state of the United States of America. The island had begun its transformation and was starting to look like the paradise we know today. Around this time is when tourists started to flock to the area. This is around the time when Don Ho released his signature song “Tiny Bubbles” - and ever since, his music and style have become synonymous with Hawaiian culture.
Elvis Presley was famously in love with the islands, bringing an increase of attention through various media. His first visit was in 1957, two years before it became a state.
Since its incorporation into the United States, Hawaii has continued to grow into one of the most diverse states in the US.
The current population of Hawaii is roughly 1.4 million, partially due to active duty military personnel and tourists. Ni'ihau is the only island that is purely restricted to Native Hawaiians. This is also known as the "Forbidden Island" and has been privately owned by the same family since 1954. Oahu contains the bulk of the population at roughly one million, with the rest spread among the other 6000 mi.² of land.
Because the landmass of Hawaii is both limited and largely untouched, real estate in Hawaii comes at a premium. The population is diverse, and neighborhoods can vary widely in culture. To learn more about living in Hawaii and other things, check out our quiz page below - and when you're ready, request a consultation!