Celebrating 60 Years of Hawaii Statehood

A view of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head (Photo via hipho / iStock / Getty Images Plus)
Scott Laird
by Scott Laird
Last updated: 6:00 PM ET, Sun August 18, 2019

The 50th State

Hawai'i, the 50th state in the union, was officially admitted to the union by President Eisenhower's signature certifying votes by both Congress and the people of Hawai'i, on August 21, 1959. In honor of 60 years of statehood, here are a collection of facts about the nation's only island state.

Coffee Grounds

Coffee is a finicky plant that has specific needs for sunshine, precipitation, soil content, and elevation. Hawai'i is the only state with an environment suitable for growing coffee and is the only state that produces it. Most coffee grown on Hawai'i is grown on Hawai'i Island or Kaua'i. Mild growing conditions and rich volcanic soil produce a smooth, drinkable brew.


The Hawaiian islands are one of the most isolated archipelagos on earth. Because of this, many of the species endemic to and only found in Hawai'i are among the worlds most endangered. Despite comprising around one percent of the total land mass of the United States, Hawai'i contains nearly half the country's endangered species.

Plantation Past

When Hawai'i joined the union in 1959, the state's industry was primarily agricultural and there were no resorts outside Waikiki Beach. Hawai'i's primary cash crops were sugar and pineapples, and most neighbor island residents worked in agriculture, fishing, or ranching. Neighbor island tourism development began in the mid-1960s, with resorts opening in Ka'anapali, Maui, and Po'ipu Beach, Kaua'i.

Ancient Temples

Heiau were temples built by pre-contact Hawaiians and used for a variety of religious uses, from praying for abundant harvests to refuge for rule-breakers who wanted to avoid being sacrificed. Many heiau were destroyed in the 19th Century when the Hawaiian monarchy converted to Christianity, but some remaining heiau are open to the public today.

Birthplace of Surfing

Surfing, now popular the world over, has its roots in Polynesia. Early European explorers reported observing the practice in Tahiti, Tonga, and Samoa, but modern surfing as we know it has roots in Hawai'i where it was called he'e nalu (wave sliding). With shorelines exposed to the open ocean without fringing reefs, Hawai'i is ideal for the sport.

Sainted Isle

The peninsula of Kalaupapa on Molokai was an exile colony for sufferers of Hansen's Disease (better known as leprosy) during the 19th and 20th Centuries. A priest and a nun both worked in Kalaupapa to comfort and improve living conditions for the exiles. Today, they're venerated by the Catholic Chuch as St. Damien and St. Marianne of Molokai.

Midpacific Canyon

The island of Kaua'i is known for two landmarks that are distinct among the islands: the chain's only navigable river, and Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The canyon is known for brilliant multicolor streaks of foliage and layers of rock melted away by millions of years of rainfall, soaring waterfalls and misty rainbows.

Another Independence Day

Like anywhere in the United States, July 4th is celebrated as the national day of the United States, but in Hawai'i "Independence Day" is observed on November 28, the day in 1843 the Kingdom of Hawaii received diplomatic recognition from the governments of France and the United Kingdom. The United States was also invited to ratify the proclamation but declined.

Pink Palace

Completed in 1927, the Royal Hawaiian was the second resort hotel in Waikiki after the nearby Moana, which opened in 1901. The pink Moorish revival building is a landmark in Waikiki to this day, offering guests gracious vintage accommodations, spectacular views of Waikiki Beach, a dedicated Mai Tai Bar, and fluffy pink guava pancakes at breakfast.

Coastal Biomes

As a general rule in the Hawai'i, each island's windward, or northeasterly coast, is the wettest and most verdant, while the southwest coast will be the driest and sunniest, because of prevailing winds. Exceptions include the islands of Lana'i, Ni'ihau, and Kaho'olawe, which lie in the rain shadows of their neighbors.

No Beaches?

Hawai'i Island is the youngest island in the chain. As such, its coasts are mostly comprised of lava rock and the wide stretches of sandy beach are less common than the islands to the northwest. The result for Hawaii visitors is crystal clear water with plenty of great snorkeling.


Polihale on Kaua'i is the southernmost terminus of the Na Pali Coast Trail. Visitors come to the remote beach for one of the longest white sand beaches on the island and spectacular scenery. Visitors should be aware, however, that the pounding surf is not safe for swimming.

A Royal Connection

Princeville, on Kaua'i's Hanalei Bay, was named for Hawai'i's Crown Prince Albert in 1860. Born to great hope, and counting Britain's Queen Victoria as a godmother, Prince Albert sadly died in 1862 at the age of four, and the crown passed to the king's brother, who became Kamehameha V. A sugar plantation for decades, Princeville today is a resort area.

Mele Kalikimaka

Christmas is ardently celebrated throughout Hawai'i, although Santa Claus is often told to arrive by surfboard or jet plane rather than a reindeer sleigh. Pre-contact Hawaiians also observed a holiday feast period in midwinter, referring to the season as Makahiki. Mele Kalikimaka is a phonetic transliteration of the English phrase "Merry Christmas".

A Maui Legend

One legend tells the tale of the demigod Maui who used his fishhook to pull together the islands of Kaua'i and O'ahu, nestling O'ahu's Ka'ena Point into the sheltered bay at Nawiliwili. There is a rock on Ka'ena Point that the legend says came from Kaua'i, aptly named "Kaua'i Rock".

Tourism Development

Ka'anapali was the first resort area conceived and built outside of Waikiki, on the Valley Isle of Maui. The first resorts were completed in the mid-1960s. Ka'anapali is just one of of many resort areas on Maui, which today also include Kihei, Wailea, and Kapalua.

End of Kapu

A period known as 'Ai Noa began in 1819 when Kamehameha II began breaking the kapu (Hawaiian religious laws), most famously by eating a meal with women. A battle near Hawai'i Island's Keauhou Bay ultimately decided the fate of the kapu as civil law in the kingdom, paving the way for the rise of Christianity in Hawai'i.

Hollywood in Hawaii

Hawai'i is a popular shooting location for Hollywood films. Lumahai Beach, on Kaua'i's north shore is where Nurse Nellie Forbush, played by Mitzi Gaynor, famously "washed that man right out of her hair" in the 1958 musical film South Pacific. Other films shot on location in Hawai'i include Jurassic Park, Hawaii, Pirates of the Caribbean, and From Here to Eternity.

Colorful Beaches

Hawaii's beaches come in a rainbow of colors. Tides, surf, rainfall, and volcanic activity can affect the hues. Most beaches in the state range from the color of pale white to deep brown, but beaches can be red, pink, black, or green. Changing tide patterns can also create "instant" beaches, which wash completely away in the surf within a day.

Public Lands

All beaches in the State of Hawai'i are considered public lands, owned by and accessible to the people. This is in recognition of the ocean as a source of livelihood for many Hawai'i residents and protects their rights to access. Some beaches, however, may be surrounded by private property, rendering them inaccessible.

A Separate Kingdom

Kamehameha I conquered Maui, Moloka'i and O'ahu by 1795, uniting the islands into a single kingdom of Hawai'i. His attempts to invade Kaua'i twice failed. Kaua'i's ruler Kaumuali'i, under duress, agreed to become a vassal of Kamehameha in 1810. Upon Kamehameha's death in 1819, Kaumuali'i was kidnapped and forced to marry Kamehameha's widow Ka'ahumanu to ensure Kaua'i's continued allegiance.

Whaling Capital

Lahaina, near Ka'anapali Beach on Maui, was once capital of the Hawaiian kingdom, before moving to O'ahu in 1804. Lahaina was also noted as a supply port for Pacific whaling vessels from New England, who often replenished depleted crews by enticing native Hawaiian men into service with promises of riches and rum.

Laid-back Kailua

Kailua, through the Pali Tunnels from Honolulu on Oahu's windward side, is about as closes as one can get to Southern California in Hawai'i. Tourists flock to Kailua for its turquoise waters, white sand beach, gentle surf. There's also an abundance of surf shops and organic juice bars.

Sunny Poipu

Kaua'i's Poipu Beach on the south shore is one of the most popular locations on the island for visitors and locals alike, drawn by sunnier days, luscious mountain and ocean views, good surfing and some of the island's best snorkeling. In its earliest days, Poipu was an anchorage for ships servicing the nearby sugarcane fields.

See Sea Cliffs

Created by an ancient seismic collapse on the sea floor, Moloka'i's sea cliffs are the world's highest. Visitors can take in their spectacular views through hiking, a mule ride, or a helicopter tour. Flights from Maui to Molokai also typically skirt the north shore cliffs on approach to the island.

Lovely Lana'i

The island of Lana'i was once known as the Pineapple Isle, for most of its acreage was given over to pineapple production. Today, the pineapples are gone and tourism is the main industry, serving visitors who come for literally deserted beaches, luxury resorts, and the island's outdoor cat sanctuary.

Molokai no ka heke

Molokai is the piko (umbilicus) of the islands, sitting right in the middle of the chain. Famously laid back, and reputed to be a birthplace of hula, this charming little island has an answer for neighbors on Maui who claim Maui no ka oi (Maui is the best) in the playful rejoinder Molokai no ka heke (Molokai Mo Bettah!)

A Royal Palace

'Iolani Palace is the only royal palace on American soil. Completed for King Kalakaua in 1879, the palace was fully electrified and had telephones (although there were fewer than a dozen numbers to dial in Honolulu at the time). Following the overthrow of the monarchy, Queen Liliuo'kalani was imprisoned in a second floor bedroom for nearly two years.

A National Statue

The famous statue of Kamehameha outside Ali'iolani Hale in Honolulu is actually a replacement for one that was lost at sea. The original was later recovered near the Falkland Islands and sits near the king's birthplace on Hawai'i Island. Another replica sits in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. - the only monarch depicted in the hall.

Sacred Hula

Hula is one of Hawai'i's most emblematic traditions. Originally performed by men and women for a number of religious purposes, the dances were set to chants rather than music. Traditional hula is called hula kahiko, while hula set to Western music is called hula 'auana. Both are categories at the annual hula competition at The Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo.

Melting Pot

Hawaii is the only U.S. state with an Asian plurality, and also the U.S. state with the highest percentage of residents indicating two or more races on the census. Many Hawai'i residents have Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Filipino, Portuguese and Hawaiian ancestry owing to the successive waves of migration from those regions.

Spouting Horn

Spouting Horn is a popular attraction on Kaua'i's South shore. Waves force ocean water through an old lava tube, and the pressure creates a natural fountain. The fountain used to shoot higher, but the opening was dynamited by plantation owners to reduce the ocean spray on the nearby sugarcane fields.

No Snakes

As one of the most remote island groups on the planet, the state has many species that are only found in the Hawaiian Islands. What won't be found, however, are snakes. They're not native to Hawai'i and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture strictly enforces a ban to protect local wildlife.

King Kalo

Taro, known in Hawaiian as kalo has been a staple crop in Hawai'i since it was introduced by Polynesian settlers. The root of the taro plant is steamed, then mashed to make poi; the leaves, known as luau, are cooked with pork or chicken and coconut milk to make a dish also called luau.

Whale Haven

Humpback whales migrate annually between Hawai'i and Alaska. They can be found in Hawaiian waters from November through April, where they breed and birth calves. The Hawaiian Islands are home to what is believed to be the largest population of migratory whales in the world, which makes whale watching a popular activity in Hawai'i in the winter and spring.


Pre-contact Hawaiians were skilled at fishing, but they were even more skilled at aquaculture, farming the majority of the fish needed to sustain their communities. Traditional fishponds were designed to keep a constant stream of fresh ocean water circulating through the pens without allowing fish to escape. This preserved the natural balance of aquatic life outside the fishponds.


Haleakala (House of the Sun) is a volcanic crater on Maui soaring to above 10,000 ft elevation. The slopes are also home to the silversword, an exceptionally rare plant that grows only on the slopes of Haleakala and nowhere else in the world. The silversword has legal protections from destruction.

Aloha Festivals

Aloha Festivals is a statewide cultural festival that takes place each September. Activities include a royal court procession, parade, and neighborhood block party in Waikiki. Pa'u skirt riders are a popular feature during the parade, often adorned with many lei and a large, billowing pa'u skirt.

Disappearing Sand

Beach erosion has long been a problem in Waikiki. In addition to being carried away by the surf, a great deal of it is tracked off the beach by the millions of visitors each year to wind up in hotel rooms and lobbies, housekeeper vacuums and wastewater systems. Sand is frequently replenished, sometimes coming from as far away as Australia.

Forbidden Island

Ni'ihau is known as the Forbidden Island and is off-limits to all but the island's Native Hawaiian residents. The island has been privately owned by the Sinclair family since the 19th Century. However, visitors can snorkel in the reefs off the island's coast, and snorkel excursions are available from neighboring Kaua'i if the channel is calm enough for a crossing.

Authentic Mai Tai?

The Mai Tai is often associated with Hawai'i but its origin is not Hawaiian. The famous tiki tipple was invented by "Trader" Vic Bergeron of the Trader Vic's Restaurant chain, in Oakland, California in 1947. Maitai is a Tahitian exclamation of satisfaction; the Hawaiian cognate is maika'i.

Flower Power

Lei are flower garlands with great significance in Hawaiian culture, often given for special occasions such as graduations or weddings or to welcome and bid farewell to visitors. Passengers onboard steamships departing Honolulu would toss their lei into the water as the ship rounded Le'ahi (Diamond Head); tradition claimed if the lei floated to shore, the visitor would one day return.

Hawaiian Cowboys

Cattle has been ranched on the islands since the 1800s, and to this day many island ranches still turn out quality grass-fed beef. Early ranch hands arrived in the islands from the American Southwest and Mexico spoke mostly Spanish, which earned them the moniker "Paniolo" from the Native Hawaiians.

No ferries?

For an island state, Hawai'i has a surprising lack of interisland ferries. The only interisland passenger ferry runs between Maui and Lanai, and only accepts foot traffic. Ferries aren't common in Hawai'i because the interchannel crossings are famously rough and slow. Environmental and traffic concerns effectively ended the last ferry effort in 2008.

Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor is one of the state's most visited attractions. Visitors come to pay their respects at the final resting place of the U.S.S. Arizona, sunk on December 7, 1941. U.S. Naval presence in Pearl Harbor predates the Territory of Hawai'i. License to use the harbor as a coaling and repair station was granted by King Kalakaua in the 1880s.

Hawai'i Volcanoes

Hawai'i is not the only state with volcanoes, but its volcanoes are the most active. Kilauea Volcano on Hawai'i Island has been continuously erupting since 1983. Nearby Mauna Loa erupted frequently throughout Hawai'i's recorded history but has lain dormant since 1984. Off the southeast coast of Hawai'i lies the underwater volcano Lo'ihi, which won't surface for several thousand years.

Shave Ice

Shave Ice (commonly mispronounced "shaved ice" by visitors) is a popular local sweet treat. It's distinguishable from other forms of ices by the fine shave of the ice, the tropical flavors such as Liliko'i (passionfruit) and local add-ins like adzuki bean or macadamia nut ice cream.

Diamond Head?

Diamond Head is the western nickname for Le'ahi, named for it's resemblance to the dorsal fin of the tuna. It was so named by British sailors who mistake calcite crystals spotted near the summit for diamonds, and the name stuck. A popular visitor activity is to climb the short but steep trail to the summit for views of Waikiki.

Plate Lunch

The plate lunch is emblematic of Hawai'i's culinary heritage. Consisting of a mix of different meats, often prepared in a variety Asian styles like kalbi or katsu served with macaroni salad and rice, the hearty dish has its roots in the state's plantation era, when international communities swapped cooking techniques.

60 Years of Statehood

The state's motto comes from 1843 by Kamehameha III, at the end of the Paulet Affair, which briefly overthrew Hawaiian sovereignty. Ua Mau Ke Ea o ka 'Aina i ka pono is officially translated as "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."

The Aloha State joined the union 60 years ago and we're celebrating with a collection of facts about the only state that was once a sovereign kingdom.

Topics From This Media to Explore

Get To Know Us Better

Agent At Home

Helping leisure selling travel agents successfully manage their at-home business.

Subscribe For Free

Agent Specialization: Group Travel

Laurence Pinckney

Laurence Pinckney

CEO of Zenbiz Travel, LLC

About Me
Agent At Home

Helping leisure selling travel agents successfully manage their at-home business.

Subscribe For Free

Agent Specialization: Group Travel

Laurence Pinckney

Laurence Pinckney

CEO of Zenbiz Travel, LLC

About Me