What was it that ignited Hawaii's economy like a great rocket in the 1960s? The answer seems to be statehood. Up to 1959, there had been a decline in the Islands' traditional agricultural base, and many young people were leaving for the mainland in search of better opportunities. Waikiki Beach was still a low-density spot with lots of calm and vegetation, harboring only a handful of hotels. Travel to the Islands was within the reach of a much narrower group of mainlanders, and those who did come tended to choose a cruise ship and then stay for at least a week or two.
Statehood seemed to change all this, for reasons mostly psychological. The battle to become the 50th state generated reams of stateside magazine and newspaper copy about Hawaii, almost all of it favorable. When the bill passed Congress, Hawaii was suddenly no more some kind of primitive colony but a very real part of the American Union and one most Americans were curious to see. And now all the uneasy fears -- that there might be special shots required to go to Hawaii, or that the currency might be different, or other comical concerns of the pre-statehood period -- began to drop away. Direct jet service was inaugurated about the same time, and it was only a few hours from the West Coast. And for Hawaii's economic health, the new image also said that it was now a safe place to invest money.
"If one were to pick four items that symbolized what has happened to Hawaii in the first 10 years since statehood," writer Harold Hostetler of the HonoluluAdvertiser commented in 1969, "he might choose a bulldozer, a construction crane, a cement mixer, and a carpenter's hammer. Combined, those four tools have done more to change the face of Hawaii in just 10 years than has all the activity of man since the Islands were first settled by the ancient Polynesians."
The surge of business and inflation of values was apparent in almost every facet of Hawaii life. The value of property, including both lands and buildings, rose 300 percent in the state as a whole and by nearly 400 percent on the island of Oahu.