Usually, we imagine American history as, well, history. Surprisingly, Hawaii is probably younger than most grandmas; as a state, at least. Hawaii gained statehood on August 21st, 1959, as the 50th and final US state. Here on the mainland, most of us know Hawaii as the land of hula dancing, beautiful beaches and family vacations, but our 50th state has a rich cultural history that's still alive and well today. Keep reading for 11 interesting facts about the Aloha state.
1. Hawaii has an impressive and diverse military presence.
The US Army has the largest presence there, with over 16,000 active duty members. Next comes the Navy with roughly 8,000, the Marine Corps with 7,000, and the Air Force with about 5,000. These forces operate from numerous military bases, which gives Hawaii the largest and most diverse concentration of our military within a metropolitan area.
2. Veterans love Hawaii.
Because of the strong military presence on the islands, over 120,000 veterans live in Hawaii, making up about 11% of the population. As of late 2018, Hawaii has over 18,000 military retired personnel. Of those individuals, over 17,000 receive monthly pensions.
3. The attack on Pearl Harbor changed life in Hawaii.
When the Japanese Navy Air Service attacked Pearl Harbor, over 2000 Americans were killed, but the impact on Hawaii didn't end there. Tourism and production industries on Oahu ground to a halt. Meanwhile, over 160,000 Japanese people were being held in Hawaii- a setup that the struggling islands could no longer support. If they were removed all at once, however, the economy would crumble.
Martial law was strictly enforced until the end of the war, leaving the US military in direct control of many aspects of life in Hawaii. Over time, the military transformed Hawaii's culture. Sugar plantations were turned into housing and training sites, more roads were built, and some of the smaller islands were destroyed. At the end of the war, military personnel returned to the mainland, resulting in even more economic challenges for Hawaii. Fortunately, the people there have since worked together to rebuild a thriving, beautiful Oahu.
4. Hawaii was once a monarchy.
Until 1893, the islands were ruled by the Hawaiian Monarchy. Queen Liliuokalani was sin power at the time, when a group from her Committee of Public Safety conducted a military coup. After the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown, President Grover Cleveland believed the monarchy should be restored. When President McKinley took office, however, he saw Hawaii as a chess piece in the game of the Spanish-American War and annexed the region. As mentioned before, it took until 1959 for Hawaii to officially become a US state.
5. Hawaii still honors its historical royalty.
As a former monarchy, Hawaii has traditions dating back long before it became a state. Hawaiian royalty, or ali'i, is still celebrated today. Kamehameha Day is held on June 11 in honor of King Kamehameha the Great, and Prince Kuhio Day takes place on March 26. Both of these dates are official state holidays, celebrated with annual festivals, traditional foods, and colorful parades.
6. Hawaii is the only U.S. state with two official languages.
The rest of the states only recognize English as the official language, but Hawaii includes its original Hawaiian tongue. Hawaiian pidgin, a Creole language based on English, is also commonly spoken, but it's not considered an official state language.
7. Learning the alphabet in Hawaii is easier.
To tourists, Hawaiian names can look intimidating, but they're actually pretty simple once you learn how the Hawaiian alphabet works. There are only 12 letters plus two symbols that change pronunciation. Once you learn the basics, it's actually easier to sound out than English!
8. There are actually 137 Hawaiian Islands.
Most people have heard of some of the largest Hawaiian islands, like Maui, Oahu, Kauai, and "the Big Island". In addition to the eight major ones, there are over 100 more smaller islands, each with unique reefs. Across the many islands, the climate varies too, covering 10 of the world's 14 climate zones! This natural variation is responsible for the vast diversity of flora and fauna in Hawaii, making it a place like none other on Earth.
9. Hawaii is home to the world’s largest dormant volcano.
Maui's Mount Haleakala reaches a peak of 10,023 feet above sea level, with a 7.5 by 2.5 mile crater. That said, the bulk of the volcano is actually located under water. Measured from the sea floor, it's nearly 30,000 feet; similar to the height of Mount Everest! This volcanic giant was responsible for creating the majority of the island of Maui, and it's likely to grow again in the future. Mount Haleakala isn't extinct, just dormant, so it may erupt again one day.
10. Surfing started here!
With white sand, warm water, and epic waves, it's not shocking that surfing was invented in Hawaii. It originated over a century ago, and it's believed that stand up paddle boarding began there as well. Surfers at Waikiki started the trend several decades ago, but it wasn't until a more recent revival by big wave surfers that the sport began to increase in popularity.
11. There are no snakes in Hawaii.
If you're scared of things that slither, Hawaii is your ideal destination. The state has a strict ban on snakes and other species that may disturb native species, including hamsters, gerbils, and squirrels. Anyone who does bring a snake in should be prepared for hefty fines and possible jail time! Hawaii also requires a quarantine period for other pets, which has prevented the transmission of rabies completely.