Hawaii Becomes A State: August 21, 1959

On the morning of August 21, 1959, nearly 100 people crammed into the Governor’s office in Iolani Palace in Honolulu, Hawaii. They arrived long before 10:00 a.m., the scheduled time for the anticipated phone call. Minutes ticked by and a nervous hush permeated the room. At 10:08, a string of firecrackers ignited within earshot of the palace, followed by the blaring of car horns – but the phone remained silent. Finally, at 10:15 a.m., the Governor’s phone rang, and the room let out a collective sigh of relief. The call from Washington relayed the news. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had just signed the proclamation making Hawaii the 50th state. Governor William F. Quinn made the announcement to the cheering crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, Hawaii is now a state!” The announcement came from the same palace where 66 years earlier, Hawaii’s final monarch was ousted during a coup that led to Hawaii’s annexation as a US territory. 

Hawaii’s journey to statehood was long and bumpy. The Hawaiian Islands were originally settled by Polynesian voyagers centuries ago. In 1778, British explorer Capt. James Cook came upon the islands while searching for the Northwest Passage. He named his discovery the Sandwich Islands. He named his discovery the Sandwich Islands.

The islands were originally comprised of warring factions, but united under a single monarchy in 1810 under King Kamehameha I. In 1818, Kamehameha was reportedly unhappy with the name Sandwich Islands, saying that each island should have its own name and the chain of islands should be known as the “Islands of the King of Hawaii.”

During the 1830s, the first sugar cane plantations were established in Hawaii bringing immigrants and trade. The rise of steamship travel in the 1840s opened the door to reliable transportation to the islands. With increased commerce, a group of white businessmen and landowners associated with sugar and pineapple plantations, and cattle ranches developed considerable power in the islands.

In 1887, they forced King David Kalakaua to sign the Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii, which limited the power of the monarchy. It became known as the Bayonet Constitution. After Kalakaua’s death in 1891, his sister Queen Liliuokalani became Hawaii’s last reigning monarch. Just two years after her accession and amid attempts to adopt a new constitution to restore power to the monarchy, she was overthrown in a coup at Iolani Palace. The coup was organized by powerful white residents with the help of US Marines.

Around the time of the Spanish-American War, the US realized the strategic military importance of Hawaii and established a military outpost that later became Pearl Harbor naval station. In 1898, Hawaii was annexed and became a US territory. Sanford B. Dole was named the president of the Provisional Government of Hawaii. The territory had no voice in the US government and rich plantation owners benefited by allowing plantation owners to import cheap labor and export products to the mainland with low tariffs.

For the next 60 years, there were many petitions for statehood. In June 1959, Hawaiians’ voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining the Union. Months later, Eisenhower, who had advocated for Hawaii’s statehood during his campaign, signed the proclamation admitting Hawaii as the 50th state.

If you would like to learn more about Hawaii’s road to statehood, search Newspapers.com today!

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34 thoughts on “Hawaii Becomes A State: August 21, 1959

    1. I was 7 years old, but 8 years old, almost. Nice to know something important happened in our lifetime.

      1. What about the moon landing? The assasinations of JFK, RFK, MLK? The 60’s alone had too many “important” things happen.

  1. Thank you for being open and honest about the how – you referenced the “white businessmen and land oweners” by “they” but did say they gained power over the Hawiians and took Hawaii from them. ‘

    It is a history we should know so that Americans are more aware of why and how other countries see us.

    1. It hurts to look back and see how mean Americans were. But it’s not just Americans. Throughout history, groups of people have been attacking others to gain power and wealth. If only they could see that power, fame, and fortune are not the answer to a lasting happiness.

  2. I like what I’ve seen so far. Earlier I saw something about subscribing to this site but I can’t find it now.

  3. People need to sort out the real issues from the bias in this article, do you honestly think it is better to be ruled under a king or queen or in a democratic system where anyone can run for an election and vote? The people of these islands were subjugated by a monarchy who decided every thing for them. Leadership was passed down not by merit but by the family you were born in to. The people of Hawaii threw off their monarchy in favor of democracy. It is popular to confuse this point with some sort of cultural correctness. It is not correct to have a government based on a circumstance of birth.

    1. I feel so sorry for you, read your history. We have become the equivalent of the Roman, Persian and Ottoman empires. So sad. Our military gets approximately $900 billion a year while our inter structure rusts to dust.
      Salute our Corporate Empire. It’s a club and we’re not in it.

      1. Bill, I feel so sorry for you, read your history. Monarchies, kings, queens – absolute rulers where citizens have little or no voice have never turned out positive. What this article fails to report (on purpose) is the atrocities perpetrated by those in power before the coup. As for comparing the U.S. to the Persian & Ottoman empires – methinks you really need to read up on a bit more history.

        1. Really? Let’s see the information on the atrocities perpetrated by the those in power. And even if it were true – that doesn’t give us the right to just annex islands. Don’t kid yourself, son. We never do anything unless money is involved. We were not rescuing them. We were looking to make money.

          1. We would have been very dumb to not annex Hawaii. If we didn’t do it some other great power would have. What other great power would treated the indigenous Hawaiians better than we did?

      2. Despite some of the dark chapters in US history, we are
        still the most benevolent and free democracy in the history of the world.

    2. Did you ask the people if they wanted to be annexed and brought into the US? Because when I was there – I sure got the impression they were mad about it then and still are. Look at the latest indignity. “We” want to put a large telescope there. The natives are upset because the location is sacred to them. Do “we” care? Nope…arrest the old timers who are protesting and carry on with the build.

  4. After she was forced to abdicate the Hawaiian throne, attempts were made to restore the monarchy and oppose annexation, but with the outbreak of the Spanish–American War, the United States annexed Hawaiʻi. Living out the remainder of her later life as a private citizen, Liliʻuokalani died at her residence, Washington Place, in Honolulu on November 11, 1917.

    Read the Wikipedia article about her. She was an amazing woman! She was also a gifted musician. She wrote Aloha ‘Oe. While she was held at Iolani Palace, she made an elaborate quilt. She was able to keep in touch with folks on the outside because she was allowed to have fresh flowers delivered everyday and the messages were smuggled inside the arrangements. If you take the tour of Iolani Palace on Oahu, you can stand in the very room where this REMARKABLE woman was held.

    I moved to Hawaii in 1963 as a second grader. I lived there until I was 14. It was a wonderful yet clueless childhood. We had our glossed over Hawaii State History in 4th and 8th grade, but it never sunk in what had really happened. I like to believe that some other powerful nation would have come along if we had not. I also know that some of the Hawaiian people were not at all opposed to statehood. When I returned to Hawaii 20 years later, I was happy to see all the Hawaiian accent marks restored. Hawai’i, Lanai’i, etc. It seemed like a metaphor for other things that needed to be restored. Hawaii is not only one of the most beautiful places on earth, it is so strategically located, I am ultimately happy that it is ours, our 50th State. But what a price was paid!

    1. Gloria, thanks for the info. I went to the Bishop Museum while there. I tend to be more of a history buff than tourist when I go to new places. I was fairly appalled over what I learned (but not really surprised). What kind of is ironic now – is that the reason why we annexed Hawaii is no longer a valid reason. It’s too expensive to now ship sugarcane and pineapples from the Islands when we can just truck it up from the south for just a few pesos. If this wasn’t modern times with the eyes of the world upon us – we probably would go annex those locations, too. 🙂 Greedy corrupted desire for power is always apparent when people are stepped all over to get what is wanted.

      1. What about the moon landing? The assasinations of JFK, RFK, MLK? The 60’s alone had too many “important” things happen.

  5. I was in Bolling Field Washington, D. C. With the National Civil Air Patrol Drill Team after we won the Championship in New York, Rockefeller Center. We took a team Photo with then Congressman Dan Inouye. What an experience. We represented the USA at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) in Ontario Canada. I just graduated from McKinley 1959 then flew to California to perform at the Salinas County Fair, before flying to New York.

  6. The rich becomes powerful via cheap labor and commercial exploitation. Any interference with this business principle has dire consequences until a monoply sets in. History attests to this with Teddy Roosevelt via his political struggles with the Robber Barons. Prior to Teddy, Andrew Jackson, Abe Lincoln and the Civil War. Even LBJ with the great society movement.

    The colonization of percieved lesser people and exploitation of their natural resources has always been the primary goal of prominent monarchs,modern and ancient. 18th century Africa is a prime example. Every major European country with a monarch established a colony in Africa to exploit the country’s natural resources and its people. No one was better at this than the 18 century British Empire. India and Hong Kong are other prime examples .
    Not until after the mid 20th century did most African countries gain their social but not economic independence from Europe.
    Even the Saudis and other Arab countries are still dependent upon the European and foreign nations for their economic survival which is based on man’s consumption of oil.
    Sadly, when we cannot negotiate the exchange of resources via trade/ commerce, we resort to coups (Venezuela most recently)and even wars.
    Ironically, it’s our past deeds, no matter how distasteful or cruel, that laid the platform for America to become what it is today,one of the most powerful and beloved nation in the world as we know it. Our past indiscretions and mistakes allow us to learn, understand and love one another.
    Sure we continue to have internal struggles socially, economically and spiritually but our tomorrows have always been greater than our yesterdays!
    I love you AMERICA!!

    1. Rudy,
      Great summary and well said. I can’t entirely agree with the ending. We are not beloved by other countries – have you been there? I have. The majority of the countries think we behave as imperialist assholes. Probably because we do. The problem with excusing our behavior is that it gives us good cause to continue to act that way. When the industrialization era came into play information was readily available. Prior to that – it was difficult to communicate with other countries and learn about “atrocities” and most people received an education that consisted of reading, writing and maths. Few if any received biology, physiology, and anthropology education to learn that all people are the same – that we are equal. That our physical differences are because of where we live not because of the size or lack of size of our brains. Until we learned all of that, until we all became equally educated, we simply justified taking over other countries because we actually thought we were doing them favors. And the slaves? Well…they aren’t really people are they? Now we have many ways to learn how our actions benefit or harm other countries, between simple medical science, ethics, and history, we now know the impact or ramifications of what we did in the past – it’s time we look at history and all this information and stop saying it’s ok, as long as we did it before. It’s not ok. Period.

      1. good reply Wynne – The U.S.A. is not ‘beloved’ abroad – that could change though ‘if’…’IF’…

  7. I was in the third grade when our class found out in our weekly readers.( (A weekly news letter publication news of current events in the USA and the World. They were distributed to elementery school students.

  8. I was in the third grade when our class found out in our weekly readers.( (A weekly news letter publication news of current events in the USA and the World.

  9. In general, these are some of the best comments I’ve read in the open forum part of blogs. Most if not all of it is sensible. I’ve studied a bit of history and found out that my grandfather did two things in Hawaii in 1926. The first is that he was sent by the Philippines Governor-General (Leonard Wood) to study working conditions of Filipino laborers on the Hawaiian Islands’ sugar plantations; the second is that he gave up allegiance to the King and became a United States citizen without having to undergo scrutiny or take a class as he fit into a bill that had been passed that anyone who was in the military of the USA, (not sure what other conditions had to be met) could simply fill out an application and have it witnessed and could immediately become a citizen with no waiting period or much else. Serving as an aide or Aide de Camp for GG Wood gave him an “in” with Governor-General of Hawaii (Farrington at the time, I believe) and three other officials at the time helped him to get sworn in, including the head of a Sugar consortium of some kind and Vice Governor-General, a judge and someone else. He completed a favorable report and submitted it to General Wood. He also left a copy behind with someone who ensured that it was placed in the custody and control of the University of Hawaii Library, where it can be checked out even today. Then he took a lot of photos, between 29 and 50 of them in black and white for the Governor-General of the Philippines, for the Philippine Commission and for the upper and lower house of the Territory of the Philippines, prior to those Islands becoming a Commonwealth in 1936 and a sovereign nation in 1946. A copy of the photographs that survived over the decades was presented to the University of Hawaii as the primary custodian and owner of those photographs, which depicted a variety of images of Hawaii during the August and September period that my grandfather was there on his, “Mission of One.” As a result of his competence in performing his tasks, he received very high marks from the Governor-General on his evaluation, signed by General Wood and this enabled him to be high on the list for promotion and he received that promotion from Lt. Colonel to Colonel and Assistant Chief of the Philippine Constabulary. I think his time in Hawaii may have been one of the high points in his military career, all of which occurred during the Insular Period, after the Spanish-American War.

  10. The man holding the flag in the newspaper photo was COL James S. Cook (father-in-law). The flag in the picture was given to COL Cook and remains in my office today.

  11. More land stolen from its original people. Native Hawaiians live as 2nd and 3rd class citizens. Today they fight for their sacred mountain Mauna Kae

  12. The man holding the flag in the picture is my Father, Col. James S. Cook. he was in charge of the heraldic Department of the Army and helped design the 49th and 50th star Flag. Beth Mason

  13. The man holding the flag in the picture is my Father, Col. James S. Cook. he was in charge of the heraldic Department of the Army and helped design the 49th and 50th star Flag. The flag is in my husband’s office. Eisenhower returned the Flag to my family when he left office.

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