A Brief History of Hawaii

By Tim Lambert

Early Hawaii

The first human beings arrived in Hawaii from the Marquesas Islands in about 300 AD. People from Tahiti reached Hawaii after 1100 CE. Then in 1778, Captain Cook sailed to Hawaii. Cook was killed in Hawaii the next year. Then in 1786, a Frenchman named La Perouse sailed to Hawaii. Europeans introduced diseases that the native people had no resistance to and their numbers fell dramatically over the next few decades.

Meanwhile, in 1810, a chief called Kamehameha united the Hawaiian islands into a single kingdom. Then in 1820, the first missionaries arrived in Hawaii from the USA. Many whalers also visited Hawaii.

In 1848 Hawaiian law was changed to allow foreigners to own land. Afterward, large sugar plantations were established and foreign laborers were brought to work on them, including many Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and Portuguese workers. In 1893 the Queen of Hawaii was overthrown in a coup and in 1898 it was annexed by the USA. It became the territory of Hawaii on 14 June 1900.

Modern Hawaii

In 1900 the population of Hawaii was only 154,000 but it rose rapidly. By 1950 the population of Hawaii had risen to almost 500,000. In the early 20th century the economy of Hawaii was dominated by pineapple and sugar plantations.

Then on 7 December 1941, the Japanese attacked the US fleet at Pearl Harbor causing catastrophic damage. Hawaii was placed under martial law until the end of the Second World War. In 1949 longshoremen in Hawaii went on strike for 177 days. Then in 1954, the Democrats won a landslide election. Finally in 1959 Hawaii joined the union as the 50th state.

From the late 1950s, air travel made Hawaii a popular tourist destination. However, the last sugar plantation closed in 1992. In 2020 the population of Hawaii was 1.4 million.

Last revised 2024