The first people to live in what is now Hawaii were the Polynesians. They sailed there in huge canoes from other Pacific islands about 2,000 years ago. A second group of Polynesian people moved to the islands from Tahiti about A.D. 1200 and won control over the earlier settlers.
According to legend, Polynesian settlers named the group of islands Hawaii in honor of a chief named Hawaii loa. This chief supposedly led the Polynesians to the islands. But the name "Hawaii is also a form of "Hawaiki," the legendary name of the Polynesian homeland to the west.
Although Japanese, Dutch and Spanish explorers may have stopped at the Hawaiian Islands as early as the 1500s, the rest of the world didn't know about the islands until after Captain James Cook of the British Navy landed there on Jan. 18, 1778.
Cook traded with the Hawaiians. He named the islands the Sandwich Islands in honor of the Earl of Sandwich, first lord of the British admiralty. Cook stayed for two weeks but returned about 11 months later to make maps of the area. He was killed during this extended visit in a quarrel between his men and the Hawaiians.
As many as 300,000 Hawaiians may have lived in the islands when the first Europeans arrived. The European trading ships came to the islands regularly starting in the late 1700s.
Local chiefs ruled the islands during the early days. Each local chief served as the governor of his own island under King Kamehameha I of the Kingdom of Hawaii, which started 1795. Kamehameha had been one of the chiefs but gained control of all of the Hawaiian Islands with the aid of firearms he obtained from white traders.
The first Christian missionaries arrived in 1820.
The Kingdom of Hawaii adopted its first constitution in 1840 and the United States was given exclusive rights to use Pearl Harbor as a naval station in 1887. In 1893 a revolution removed the ruler and in 1894 the islanders established the Republic of Hawaii.
Hawaii didn't stay a republic long. American businessmen controlled the government and in 1898 they succeeded in getting the United States to annex Hawaii as a possession.
The island became a U.S. territory on June 14, 1900 and all islanders became American citizens.
After World War I, the statehood movement grew rapidly.
On Dec. 7, 1941, planes of the Japanese navy attacked Pearl Harbor and airfields on Oahu and the U.S. was plunged into World War II.
The first bill for Hawaiian statehood was introduced into Congress as early as 1919. Many more statehood bills followed through the years.
Finally, in March 1949, Congress approved legislation to admit Hawaii as a state. President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill on March 18 and in June, the people of Hawaii voted almost 17 to 1 for statehood.
Hawaii became the 50th state on Aug. 21, 1949.