The sinking of the USS Arizona
during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Early History

The earliest settlements in the Hawaiian Islands are generally believed to have been made by Polynesians who traveled to Hawaii using large double-hulled canoes. They brought with them pigs, dogs, chickens, taro, sweet potatoes, coconut, banana, sugarcane, and other Pacific plants and animals. There are numerous possible accounts of landings by Europeans, Chinese and others long before the arrival of Captain Cook; however, none of these have been documented with certainty. On January 18, 1778 Captain James Cook and his crew, while attempting to discover the Northwest Passage between Alaska and Asia, were surprised to find the Hawaiian islands so far north in the Pacific. He named them the "Sandwich Islands", after the fourth Earl of Sandwich. The islands were united under a single ruler, Kamehameha I, for the first time in 1810 with the help of foreign weapons and advisors. The monarchy then adopted a flag similar to the one used today by the present flag of the State of Hawaii, with the Union Flag in the canton (top quarter next to the flagpole) and eight horizontal stripes (alternating white, red, blue, from the top), representing the eight major islands of Hawaii.

Territory and Statehood

The Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 between the Kingdom of Hawaii and the United States allowed for duty-free importation of Hawaiian sugar (from sugarcane) into the United States beginning in 1876. This promoted sugar plantation agriculture. In exchange, Hawai'i ceded Pearl Harbor, including Ford Island, together with its shore for four or five miles back, free of cost to the U.S. The U. S. demanded this area based on an 1873 report commissioned by the U. S. Secretary of War. This treaty explicitly acknowledged Hawaii as a sovereign nation. In 1893, Queen Lili'uokalani attempted to release her country from the repressive 1887 Bayonet Constitution which disenfranchised many Hawaiians and Asian immigrants. However, she was opposed by American and European residents. The US military intervened and the Queen abdicated on January 17, 1893. McKinley signed the Newlands Resolution which annexed Hawaii on July 7, 1898 to become the Territory of Hawaii. Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941 by the Empire of Japan, triggering the United States' entry into World War II. Most Americans had never heard of Pearl Harbor, even though it had been used by the US Navy since the Spanish-American War. Hawaii was put under martial law until the end of the war. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Hawaii Admission Act on March 18, 1959 which allowed for Hawaiian statehood. After a popular referendum in which over 93% voted in favor of statehood, it was admitted as the 50th state on August 21, 1959, with a population of about 423,620 (85%) Americans and foreigners and 76,620 (15%) Native Hawaiians.