Honolulu Harbor, Oahu
Review and History

Honolulu Harbor is the hub of shipping for Hawaii, an island chain that thrives on ocean transportation. Most cargo ships in Honolulu Harbor move goods between Hawaii and California ports. Others move between Honolulu Harbor and the United States' East Coast through the Panama Canal. Still others move cargo to and from ports in the western Pacific. Honolulu Harbor is one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. Around-the-world cruises call there every day, and there are even inter-island luxury cruises.

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach

Photo by Wikijango

The only incorporated city in Hawaii, Honolulu Harbor rests along the south shores of the island of Oahu. The third largest island in the Hawaiian chain, Oahu contains about 600 square miles (1600 square kilometers). The entire island is under the jurisdiction of the City and County of Honolulu. In 2005, over 377 thousand people lived in Honolulu Harbor, and more than 900 thousand lived in the Honolulu metropolitan area.

Port History

No one knows when the original Polynesian peoples first settled Honolulu Harbor, but archeological evidence and oral history suggest that they have lived there since at least the 12th Century. King Kamehameha I conquered the island in the early 1800s, moving his court to Waikiki in 1804 and to today's downtown Honolulu Harbor in 1809.

The first European to discover Hawaii was probably Captain James Cook of England. He landed at Kauai Island (Hawaii's biggest) in 1778 and was killed there on his return visit in 1779. England's Captain William Brown was the first European to enter Honolulu Harbor in 1794. More foreign vessels soon followed, and Honolulu Harbor became the center for cargo and mercantile traffic between Asia and North America.

Queen Liliuokalani

Queen Liliuokalani

Photo by John Roy Musick

Contact between the Honolulu Harbor Polynesians and Europeans was intermittent for many years after Cook first landed there. King Kamehameha I used European weapons and technology to consolidate his control over the island group, and Hawaiian kings ruled for almost 90 years. But visits from outsiders steadily became more frequent. By the early 19th Century, American whalers were wintering in Honolulu Harbor.

Captain George Vancouver brought livestock to the islands in 1792, and New England missionaries first arrived in 1920. By the mid-1800s, Europeans and Americans had established settlements in Honolulu Harbor, bringing schools, churches, shops, frame houses, and horse-drawn vehicles to the islands. Soon, their skills and religious convictions had changed forever Hawaii's Polynesian culture.

Aliiolani Hale

Aliiolani Hale

Photo by Cumulus Clouds

In 1940, King Kamehameha III laid the foundation for a constitutional government when he announced a Declaration of Rights in 1839 and a written constitution in 1840. Influenced by missionaries, these steps led to recognition of Hawaiian independence from France, Great Britain, and the United States.

Diamond Head<br>View from Waikiki Beach

Diamond Head
View from Waikiki Beach

Photo by Cristo Vlahos

But their actions belied their words. In 1876, Kamehameha III signed a reciprocity treaty with the U.S. In 1893, the United States supported an overthrow of the king and the formation of a new republic. By 1900, the US Congress had formally annexed the islands and made it a territory of the United States. Hawaii's last royal ruler, Queen Liliuokalani, died in 1917.

From 1900 to 1940, Honolulu Harbor's population grew quickly as a modern economy based on sugar and pineapples developed. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in Honolulu Harbor on December 7, 1941, the US entered World War II. Military activity dominated the islands during the war, sometimes even impinging on civil liberties. After World War II, economic development of Honolulu Harbor continued, and the islands were declared the 50th US state in 1959.

Tripler Army Medical Center<br>Aerial View

Tripler Army Medical Center
Aerial View

Photo by Jim Dung, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Statehood brought ever-increasing tourism to the Hawaiian Islands, particularly to Honolulu Harbor. It has become a favorite destination of world travelers and world-class surfers. Luxury resorts continue to rise on the island where travelers find the exotic beauty of the tropics, miles of sun-washed sandy beaches, and endless opportunities for shopping and entertainment.

The port at Honolulu Harbor was born in 1825 when a sunken vessel at the foot of Nuuanu Avenue was used as a wharf. In 1833, the vessel was replaced by a constructed dock. In 1840, efforts began to deepen Honolulu Harbor and fill adjacent tidelands. Community life revolved around Honolulu Harbor. Business, industry, and agriculture all supported the vessels calling at the port.

Downtown Honolulu, Oaho

Downtown Honolulu, Oaho

Photo by TheBrockenInaGlory

By 1857, there were five wharves in Honolulu Harbor that could handle 1500-ton ships. They offered 600 feet of berthing space. By 1970, the "Esplanade" had been created by filling in 22 acres of reef and tideland, thus adding 2000 feet of wharf. In 1905, Honolulu Harbor had grown to 3500 feet long, 800 feet wide, and 25-30 feet deep. Its entrance channel was 200 feet wide and 35 feet deep at low tide. In 1907, the US Army Corps of Engineers widened increased capacity in Kapalama Basin to 1200 feet and dredged the Basin and Kapalama Channel to 35 feet. At the same time, Sand Island was filled in and developed. By 1910, the population of Honolulu Harbor had reached over 50,000 people.

By the time Hawaii was admitted for Statehood in the U.S., almost 300 thousand people lived there. Today, islanders pay for their peaceful isolation from the continental US with dependence on ocean shipping. The State imports 80% of its food and goods, and almost all of these imports arrive by sea, much of those through Honolulu Harbor.

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