5 Unforgettable Eruptions in Kilauea’s History

Eyes around the world are on the ongoing volcanic eruption at Kilauea in Hawaii. But this attention isn’t new. The eruptions at Kilauea have been appearing in newspapers around the world for almost 200 years.

From the awe-inspiring rivers of glowing lava, to flying molten rocks, to the tragedy of lost property and injury, much of Kilauea’s recent activity has parallels with past eruptions. Here’s a look at five of the most unforgettable throughout history.

1924 Kilauea Eruption (from the Honolulu-Star Bulletin)

1924 Kilauea Eruption (from the Honolulu-Star Bulletin)

1790 – Kilauea Kills Hundreds of Hawaiians
Kilauea’s violent explosive eruption in 1790 killed hundreds of Hawaiians—most famously a party of warriors, who were likely killed by hot steam and sulfuric gases. In 1919, a geologist discovered footprints preserved in the volcanic ash of the 1790 eruption, and these footprints were long attributed to the Hawaiian warriors killed by the volcano. However, more recent research suggests that many of the footprints may have instead been made by women and children of that time period.

1840 – Kilauea Lights Up the Night
The 1840 eruption lasted about a month and is the largest on record in the East Rift Zone. The effusive eruption occurred from vents along 21 miles of the rift zone and was described as “glowing with extreme brilliancy.” One newspaper reported that it was so bright that for two weeks a person could read “the finest print” at night some 30 miles away. After the 1840 eruption, Kilauea became a tourist attraction.

1924 – Kilauea Spews Tons of Rocks into the Air
Over two-and-a-half weeks in 1924, Kilauea experienced more than 50 explosive events. These explosions, caused by steam buildup, shot tons of rock from the Halema’uma’u crater into the air, with some weighing as much as 14 tons. A shower of rocks from one of the explosions crushed the leg of a visiting Chicago man. Found covered by burning ash, the man was rushed to a hospital, where he died after having his leg amputated.

1959 Kilauea Eruption (from the Honolulu Advertiser)

1959 Kilauea Eruption (from the Honolulu Advertiser)

1959 – Kilauea Produces Record-Breaking Lava Fountains
In November and December 1959 the Kilauea Iki crater produced some truly awe-inspiring lava fountains. The initial lava fountains were impressive enough at 50 to 100 feet, but they soon were reaching 200 feet, 650 feet, 980 feet, even 1,247 feet. But then on December 17, the lava shot an incredible 1,900 feet high—more than three times the height of the Washington Monument. It was Hawaii’s highest recorded lava fountain in the 20th century.

1990 – Kilauea Destroys 100 Homes
The current Kilauea eruption began in 1983, and in 1990 it entered its most destructive phase. In March 1990, lava began to enter the community of Kalapana. By late June, 86 homes had been destroyed, and by the end of the year, Kalapana was gone. The lava flows had destroyed 100 homes, a church, and a store. The famous Black Sand Beach at Kaimu also disappeared.

Discover more images of Kilauea throughout history in our slideshow below!

Eruptions in Kilauea's History Kilauea takes a life, 1924 Kilauea hurls rocks like "skyrockets," 1924 Kilauea erupts, 1955 Kilauea 1955 Lava fountain at Kilauea, 1959 Kilauea lava fountain size comparison, 1959 Kilauea 1960 House buried in ash from Kilauea, 1960 Kilauea 1983 Flow of lava from Kilauea, 1990 Kilauea 1990

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