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History of Pearl Harbor

Long before Japan’s military strike, Pearl Harbor, much like many of Oahu’s popular attractions held tales of Hawaiian folklore featuring gods and goddesses, and mystical creatures. Pearl Harbor Website, in our goal to give you a historical insight into Pearl Harbor’s past, chronicles a brief history of the construction and development of Hawaii’s world-renowned historic site with little known Pearl Harbor facts you otherwise would not have known.

The Pearl Harbor we see today was originally a deep embayment. Until the late 1800’s, Pearl Harbor was teeming with pearl-producing oysters. Native Hawaiians living on Oahu in the 1800’s called it Wai Nomi, meaning “pearl water”. The area was also called Pu’uloa or “long hill”. Legend has it that Ka’ahupahau, the shark goddess, lived in the coral caves of Pearl Harbor along with her brother Kahi’uka. The native Hawaiians believed that the goddess protects them from man-eating sharks.

Exclusive Rights (to), Annexation, and Construction of Pearl Harbor

On December 6, 1884, as part of the Reciprocity Treaty between the Hawaiian Kingdom of 1875 and the United States of America, the U.S. was granted exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor in exchange for the duty-free export of Hawaiian sugar to the United States.

In 1898, during the Spanish American War, the United States saw the need to establish solid presence in the Pacific. Such need congealed the decision to annex Hawaii. Shortly after the annexation, construction work began starting with the dredging of the channel. Other improvements around the harbor soon followed.

Pearl Harbor Naval Base

In 1908, the congress authorized the construction of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base. The surrounding areas were soon developed to house other bases including those of the U.S. Marines and Army personnel. The Schofield Barracks which was constructed in 1909 was built to house infantry units, artillery, and cavalry.

Many of these bases were left unscathed by Japan’s attack. They were instrumental in the immediate recovery of the Naval Base and largely contributed to the surrender of Japan in 1945.

The controversial Pearl Harbor expansion

Another notable development in the history of Pearl Harbor was its expansion which began in 1909, starting with the first dry dock. While an achievement for the U.S., majority of the native Hawaiians were outraged. The Hawaiians who believed in a shark goddess guarding the harbor, feared that the developments will anger her and disaster might ensue.

True enough, the dry dock suffered a number of collapses which the engineers explained was caused by seismic disturbances. The native Hawaiians however, were sold on the idea that it was the goddess who was responsible for the construction mishaps.

The engineers soon gave in and called for a “kahuna” (Hawaiian title for a priest or a shaman) to appease the goddess.

After years of several construction setbacks, the dry dock was finally opened in 1919. Two years prior, the United States purchased Ford Island, an islet located in the middle of Pearl Harbor to be developed for military aviation for joint Army and Navy use. As Japan’s industrial and military power grew, so did the United States Army’s presence.