History of Oahu

History of Oahu

Oahu is known worldwide as a top vacation destination and the most developed of the Hawaiian islands, but there is more to its history than many realize. It was once the home of Hawaiian monarchy, as well as the birthplace of modern and big wave surfing and that location of the tipping point that ultimately led to the United State's involvement in World War II.

King Kamehameha in the 1700sHistory of Oahu

In 1795, Chief Kamehameha had conquered the islands to the east and arrived with his army of thousands to island of Oahu. Before the Hawaiians arrived, the island had been settled by Tahitians who lived there for centuries. After the Battle of Nuuanu, Hawaiian control of Oahu was secured and the monarchy ruled for the next century.

Agricultural History

In the late 19th century, agriculture was booming on Oahu and there was a major labor shortage concerning plantation owners. Immigrants from Japan, China, Korea, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Russia and the Philippines arrived in Oahu to begin working on plantations, contributing to what is now a culturally and ethnically diverse population in Hawaii. The multicultural population of the islands can be almost completely traced to this era in Hawaiian history, and many experts suggest that the collaborative agricultural work environment contributed to the harmonious diversity experienced by the community in Oahu.

Technology and Innovation

In 1893, the Hawaiian kingdom was overthrown. The Palace was found to be one of the most innovative and high tech homes around the globe, with technology even the White House and Buckingham Palace did not have at the time. Electric lights, indoor plumbing, and even an early telephone were present, at the request of King Kalakaua.

Birthplace of Surfing

Birthplace of SurfingOahu is the birthplace of modern and big-wave surfing. The North Shore in particular is known as one of the best surf spots in the world. When surfing originated, certain types of boards and waves were reserved for royalty and elite surfers. The type of board Hawaiians had and the waves they were allowed to surf were directly connected to their social standing.

After Captain Kook's arrival in the late 1700s, many native Hawaiians were enslaved and surfing was all but eliminated from the culture as enslaved Hawaiians were forced to work and assimilate into a different culture. It was not until Duke Kahanamoku brought surfing back in the early 1900s that it again grew in popularity on the island. Surfing has evolved significantly over the course of Oahu's history, but it remains an integral and influential part of Hawaii's culture.

Pearl HarborPearl Harbor

Another integral part of Oahu's history is of course Pearl Harbor. As World War II raged in Europe and the South Pacific, the United States had not yet become directly involved. On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States by staging a deadly, massive attack on Pearl Harbor. The horrific attack pulled the United States into World War II, altering the course of the nation. Pearl Harbor is now a memorial to the sacrifices and bravery of the men and women on site that day.

Oahu residents and visitors can learn about this pivotal moment in Hawaii's history today by visiting The Pearl Harbor National Memorial on Oahu, which includes the USS Arizona Memorial for the ship that was taken down during the attack.


It was not until well after World War II that Hawaii became a state. In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th United State, and ten years later the capitol building was completed in Honolulu. The Hawaii State Capitol is located behind Iolani Palace in Downtown Honolulu.

To learn more about Oahu and the kind of hometown it is today, give us a call. We would love to help you make the island your home.

More Local History

History of Diamond Head

History of Kaka'ako

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