The islands were discovered by Captain James Cook in January, 1778, and were named the Sandwich Islands. They supplied food and water, and served as a base for the refitting of ships engaged in the fur trade between the Pacific coast of North America and China. The discovery of sandalwood, which was highly valued by the Chinese because of the aromatic oil contained in the heartwood of the slowgrowing tree, stimulated trade. Sandalwood logs were the chief export from the islands between 1800 and 1830, being worth $300,000 annually, but careless cutting exhausted this resource by about 1835.
Between 1791 and 1810 the Hawaiian group was united under the rule of King Kamehameha. In Kamehameha's reign feuds and tribal wars were stopped, land was apportioned to the people, and trade with foreigners was encouraged. A few traders established themselves in the Hawaiian Islands before 1800, and by 1818 between 100 and 200 foreigners were residents. In 1820 missionaries began to arrive who helped in the education of the Hawaiians and the evolution of the people into a nation. Hawaii was a kingdom until 1893 and a republic until 1898, when it was annexed to the United States at the time of the Spanish-American War.
From about 1820 until the Civil War in the United States, the whaling fleet, chiefly American, had Hawaii as a base of operations, a source of food and supplies, and a place to rest the sailors and refit the ships. The industry reached its peak between 1840 and 1860, when one hundred to several hundred whaling ships a year visited the ports of Honolulu, Lahaina, and Hilo. Five hundred and eightyfive vessels are reported to have called at the port of Honolulu in 1852.
Young Hawaiian men joined ships as sailors to such an extent, sometimes more than 1000 in a year, that it became a factor in the depopulation of the country, a condition that had been started by introduced diseases and changing circumstances of life after contact with the westerners. In 1832 there were 124,000 Hawaiians; by 1850, there were 82,500; and by 1860, there were 67,000. Intermarriage with other races became common after 1860, and in 1872 a census showed 56,897 people, of whom 51,531 were Hawaiians. The low point in population was probably reached about 1875, after which date immigration from the Orient and elsewhere more than compensated for the decline in numbers of the Hawaiians.
The decades of the 1860's and 1870's were a time of changing economic base. The whaling industry declined because of the reduction in numbers of whales, the destruction of whaling ships by the Shenandoah and other Confederate raiders during the American Civil War, the loss of much of the whaling fleet in Arctic ice floes, and the substitution of the kerosene lamp for the whale-oil candle after the discovery of petroleum in 1859. Feeling the need of substantial new industries to take the place of whaling, the Hawaiians undertook to expand the production of sugar cane and rice; and with the signing of a reciprocity treaty with the United States in 1875, the production of these commodities was greatly expanded. Capital became available, and scores of sugar plantations were started. The discovery of artesian water and the construction of canals and tunnels to bring water from the rainy side of islands to dry areas made it possible to grow sugar cane by irrigation on land that otherwise was too and for the crop. Improved varieties of cane and the lavish application of fertilizer also helped the growth of the industry, which expanded in tonnage of sugar fifteen times between 1875 and 1890. Labor was needed by the sugar plantations, and from 1877 to 1890 more than 55,000 immigrant laborers were admitted, over half of whom were Chinese and about one-fourth Portuguese. Some of the workmen returned home after the end of their period of enlistment, but many of them became permanent residents. Japanese began to come to the islands in numbers in 1885, and continued to come until 1907 when their immigration was restricted by a "gentlemen's agreement." Thereafter Filipinos became a leading source of plantation labor.