The Day 49 Became 50 Glorious States United
The addition of Hawaii as a state on August 21, 1959, finally completed the U.S. flag and gave Americans an expensive but beautiful place to get married. Forget the Caribbean. Hawaii was finally one of us.
The year 1959 was a good one for state acquisitions. Alaska had become the 49th state earlier the same year. The U.S. added Hawaii for much the same reason as Alaska.
These made great locations to stage a defense of the United States. In fact, both had been military outposts long before they joined the union.
Hawaii might have been the last state added, a nefarious acquisition by many accounts (no different than the other 49) but there’s a prestige with being the 50th state that no other state can claim.
While every state brings its unique flavor of Americana, Hawaii is a unique star on our flag. From the heritage of the people to the ecosystems of her islands, what a great addition.
It was sometime in the 8th century when Polynesian voyagers from the Marquesas Islands drifted into a chain of islands. That’s about 2,000 miles traveled, not in schooners or even yacht-size boats. They were in something closer to canoes.
There must have been a gravity about the islands because 500 years after the travelers from the Marquesas Islands arrived, more travelers, this time from Tahiti arrived. They brought their polytheistic religious ideology, Kapu, and social structure to the islands.
Kapu gave the islands a form of religious law which brought capital punishment for violators of the law. It was organized but tough.
After that, island culture flourished. This was the time when Hawaii gave birth to traditions like hula and surfing, the latter being a sport that fanatics enjoy around the world.
They lived apart from the world for centuries, until James Cook landed in 1778. In the classic tradition of European explorers, he tried to rename the islands, in this case after his financier, the Earl of Sandwich.
Had his name stuck, we’d call them the Sandwich Islands. (Whew.)
In the late 1700s, just after Cook’s arrival, a leader rose in a corner of Hawaii, who united the various tribes, Kamehameha the Great. He was the young leader who ended the fighting, becoming the first king of the islands.
It was his son, Kamehameha II, who put an end to the existing system of Kapu. That was in 1819. The next year, missionaries arrived to spread the good word of Christianity, something of a substitute for Kapu.
From the time forward, Hawaii experienced a slow influence from the United States, becoming a port for whalers, fishermen, and traders.
There was an overthrow of the old Hawaiian system in 1893, led by American colonists and a small division of U.S. Marines. (Yup, you read that correctly.)
By 1898, Hawaii folded under the U.S. as a territory. Had there not been a Second World War, it might have stayed that.
It didn’t take long for the U.S. military to figure out that Hawaii made a good place to keep some troops and supplies. It was halfway to Russia, and the back door to Asia.
The Naval Station Pearl Harbor opened the year after Hawaii became a U.S. territory, called Naval Station, Honolulu at the time. At first, the navy focused on coal mining, but in the first part of the 1900s, they built military facilities too.
By 1903, the first battleship arrived the USS Wisconsin. The build up over the next few decades would make Pearl Harbor an accessible and salient target for the Japanese in December 1941.
Becoming a State
The reality of Hawaii’s global position came into focus for Americans after Pearl Harbor.
The subsequent war and feeling of pride about the collection of island territories led the United States to one inevitable outcome. Hawaii would become part of the family, no longer the bastard outcast.
In March 1959, the United States began the process to make Hawaii a state. The people voted, and by August it was official.
If the close presence of the United States via Hawaii makes any of her advisories uncomfortable, they can thank the Japanese leadership of the 1940s.
It was they who brought us closer together, all of us. It made the contiguous United States feel closer to Hawaii, and by proxy, closer to the rest of the world. One big happy family connected at Hawaii.