Today Hawaii is celebrating its 53rd anniversary of becoming a State, and there is much to celebrate.
Remembering Hawaii’s attainment of statehood on August 21, 1959, former Gov. Linda Lingle (R) recalls the celebration in the streets – civil defense horns wailing, church bells peeling, ship whistles blaring and motorists honking their horns. She has a distinct recollection of a headline proclaiming Hawaiians to be “First Class Citizens Now.” Lingle remembers the moment as “a day that marked new opportunities – socially, economically and politically.”
Rep. Mazie Hirono (D) recounts how she was given the honor of pinning the 50th star on her school flag at a special school assembly celebrating Hawaii’s statehood. She stated “statehood represented recognition of a State whose multiethnic, multicultural base was different from that of any other State, but whose sons and daughters were just as American as the people of the other 49 States.”
Statehood gave Hawaiians access to a full and complete democracy, granting them the right to participate in the governing of the United States by voting in federal elections and having proportional representation in Congress. Perhaps even more notable to Hawaiians in their day-today lives, statehood created an economic boom, leading to the financial stability that the State enjoys today.
The Hawaiian economy boomed in the ten years following statehood. Gross state product expanded from $1.6 billion in 1959 to $3.6 billion from 1959 to 1969. Personal and disposable income also grew. In 1959, annual personal income totaled $1.3 million or $2,157 per capita and $1.1 million in disposable income or $1,842 per capita. By 1969, annual personal income grew to over $3 million or $4,623 per capita (53 percent) and $2.5 million in disposable income or $3,423 per capita (46 percent).
The banking industry expanded. In 1959, Hawaii had 6 banks with 70 branches holding $666 million in total assets. By 1969, there were 7 banks with 132 branches holding $1.66 billion in total assets. Corporations grew from 2,771 with $100 million in taxable income in 1959 to 7,121 with $229 million in taxable income in 1969.
Civilian employment was at 216,140 in 1959, with 3.1 percent unemployment. By 1969, the employed population had expanded to 317,130 (over 31 percent growth), with unemployment declining to 2.7 percent. Annual payrolls also grew. For construction workers, average annual wages were $3,424 in 1958, but grew to $7,668 in 1967 (55 percent). Retail employees earned $2,420 in 1958 and $3,570 in 1967 (32 percent) [TABLE 4.9].
The number of tourists visiting Hawaii also skyrocketed from 243,261 in 1959 to 1.5 million in 1969. Visitor expenditures rose from $109 million to $550 million, contributing to the boom and advancing one of the island’s premier industries.
Today Hawaii enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates and poverty levels in the country. Its tourism industry is world renown. Meanwhile, its cultural heritage continues to be preserved in historically pristine condition in places like the island of Molokai. The past fifty-three years have been marked by growth and strength, achieved without sacrificing the great beauty and culture enjoyed by natives and tourists alike. Hawaiians have much to celebrate today.
(The tables referenced in this article were taken from Historical Statistics of Hawaii by Robert C. Schmitt, The University Press of Hawaii, Honolulu, Copyright 1977.)