Save money on your next flight

Skyscanner is the world’s leading flight search engine, helping you find the cheapest flights to destinations all over the world.

The attack on Pearl Harbor by imperial Japan on December 7, 1941 was a pivotal moment in US history. Over 2,400 Americans were killed in the attack, which led directly to the US entering World War II. But was Hawaii actually a US state when Pearl Harbor was attacked? If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: No, Hawaii was not a state at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. It was still a US territory.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we will provide a comprehensive overview of Hawaii’s status leading up to, during, and after the Pearl Harbor attack. We will explain the history of Hawaii’s relationship with the US, discuss how and why it became a territory, analyze its territorial status at the time, and outline the road to eventual statehood after the war.

The History of Hawaii’s Relationship with the United States Prior to World War II

Before the events of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii’s connection with the United States had a complex and evolving history. Let’s take a closer look at the key moments that shaped their relationship.

Early US Economic and Military Interest in Hawaii

In the 19th century, the United States recognized the strategic importance of Hawaii due to its location in the Pacific Ocean. American businessmen began to establish plantations in Hawaii, particularly in the sugar industry. This economic interest was soon followed by military considerations, as the US recognized the potential of Hawaii as a naval base in the Pacific.

Did you know? By the late 1800s, the United States accounted for about 75% of Hawaii’s total trade.

The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy

In 1893, a group of American and European businessmen, with the support of the US military, orchestrated the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Queen Liliuokalani was deposed, and a provisional government was established with Sanford B. Dole as the President.

This event sparked controversy and debate, as many questioned the legitimacy of the overthrow. It was not until 1993 that the United States formally apologized for its role in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Hawaii as a US Territory

Following the overthrow, Hawaii remained under the control of the United States, but it wasn’t until 1898 that it officially became a US territory. This was due in part to the US desire for a strong naval presence in the Pacific, especially after the Spanish-American War.

The status of Hawaii as a US territory was significant, as it allowed for greater American influence and control over the islands. It also paved the way for the eventual statehood of Hawaii in 1959.

Did you know? The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, propelled the United States into World War II and marked a turning point in US-Hawaii relations.

For more information on the history of Hawaii’s relationship with the United States, you can visit

Hawaii’s Official Status on December 7, 1941

On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was indeed part of the United States. Let’s take a closer look at the official status of Hawaii at the time.

Establishment of the Territory of Hawaii

In 1898, the United States annexed Hawaii, making it an official territory. This followed the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 and a period of political turmoil. The annexation of Hawaii was an important strategic move for the United States, as it provided a vital naval base in the Pacific.

Limited Self-Governance

After the establishment of the Territory of Hawaii, the United States granted limited self-governance to the Hawaiian people. This meant that they had their own territorial government, with a governor appointed by the President of the United States. However, ultimate authority still resided with the federal government.

Hawaii had its own legislature, which passed laws and enacted policies specific to the territory. The people of Hawaii were able to elect their own representatives and senators to the territorial legislature, further giving them a voice in their governance.

Representation in Congress

While Hawaii did not have voting representation in Congress, it did have a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives. This delegate could participate in debates and introduce legislation, but did not have the power to vote on final passage of bills.

It wasn’t until 1959 that Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States, gaining full representation in Congress. Prior to that, however, Hawaii was still considered an integral part of the United States and subject to its laws and protections.

For further information on the history of Hawaii’s official status, you can visit the Visit Pearl Harbor website, which provides a comprehensive overview of the events leading up to and following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Hawaii’s Vital Strategic Importance to the US Military

Hawaii’s strategic importance to the US military cannot be overstated. Situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii serves as a crucial outpost for projecting American power and influence in the region. The islands’ location allows for quick access to Asia, making it an ideal base for military operations and a vital link between the United States and its Pacific allies.

Pearl Harbor and the US Pacific Fleet

Pearl Harbor, located on the island of Oahu, played a pivotal role in the United States’ military strategy. It served as the home port for the US Pacific Fleet, which included battleships, aircraft carriers, submarines, and other naval vessels. The fleet’s presence in Hawaii was instrumental in maintaining a strong American military presence in the Pacific region.

The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, by the Imperial Japanese Navy was a devastating blow to the US Pacific Fleet. The surprise attack resulted in the sinking of several battleships and the loss of thousands of American lives. This event propelled the United States into World War II, as it declared war on Japan the following day.

Military Buildup on Oahu

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, there was a significant military buildup on the island of Oahu. The United States recognized the strategic importance of Hawaii and took steps to fortify its defenses. This included the construction of military installations, airfields, and anti-aircraft batteries.

The military buildup on Oahu was aimed at bolstering the island’s defenses and ensuring the safety of the US Pacific Fleet. It also served as a deterrent against future attacks. The presence of American forces on the island helped to secure Hawaii as a crucial stronghold in the Pacific theater of operations.

Hawaii’s Contributions to the US War Effort

During the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Hawaii was not yet a fully recognized state of the United States. However, its contributions to the US war effort were instrumental in the country’s eventual victory in World War II. From military service to economic contributions, Hawaii played a significant role in supporting the United States during this critical time.

Military Service

Hawaii’s military service was crucial during World War II. Despite the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, which devastated the US Pacific Fleet, the people of Hawaii rallied together and joined the armed forces to defend their homeland and the United States. Over 120,000 men and women from Hawaii, both of native Hawaiian and diverse ethnic backgrounds, served in the military during the war. Their bravery and sacrifice on the front lines helped turn the tide of the war in favor of the Allies.

Furthermore, the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed primarily of Japanese Americans from Hawaii, became highly decorated units for their heroic actions in Europe. These soldiers faced discrimination and prejudice but fought with utmost courage, earning them the nickname “Go for Broke” and becoming one of the most decorated units in US military history. Their contributions not only demonstrated their loyalty to the United States but also helped to break down racial barriers and promote equality.

Economic Contributions

In addition to their military service, Hawaii made significant economic contributions to the US war effort. The islands were strategically important as a base for military operations in the Pacific. The construction of military facilities, such as airfields and naval bases, created jobs and stimulated the local economy.

Hawaii’s agricultural industry also played a critical role in supporting the war effort. The islands were known for their production of sugar, pineapple, and other crops that were vital for feeding both the military and civilian populations. The agricultural workers worked tirelessly to meet the increased demand, ensuring a stable food supply for the troops and the nation.

Furthermore, Hawaii served as a vital transportation hub for the movement of troops, supplies, and equipment. The ports of Honolulu and Pearl Harbor became bustling centers of activity, facilitating the logistical needs of the military. The United States heavily relied on Hawaii’s strategic location in the Pacific for resupplying and reinforcing its forces during the war.

Hawaii’s Path to Statehood After World War II

After the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, there was a significant shift in the relationship between Hawaii and the United States. Prior to the attack, Hawaii was a territory of the United States, but it was not yet a state. However, the events of that fateful day propelled Hawaii onto a path towards statehood.

The Hawaii Statehood Movement

Following World War II, there was a growing movement in Hawaii advocating for statehood. The local population, which had a diverse mix of ethnicities, including Native Hawaiians, Japanese Americans, and others, believed that statehood would bring increased political representation and economic opportunities to the islands. The movement gained momentum in the 1940s and 1950s, as Hawaii’s economy began to flourish and its population continued to grow.

The Hawaii Statehood Commission was established in 1950, tasked with promoting the idea of statehood and gathering support both locally and nationally. The commission’s efforts included educational campaigns, lobbying efforts, and the organization of events to showcase Hawaii’s cultural heritage and economic potential.

Congressional Debates About Statehood

The path to statehood was not without its challenges. In the United States Congress, there were debates about whether Hawaii should be granted statehood. Some members of Congress expressed concerns about the potential impact of statehood on the racial and ethnic dynamics of Hawaii, as well as the potential strain on federal resources. Others argued that Hawaii’s strategic military importance and economic contributions made it deserving of statehood.

Despite these debates, the tide began to turn in favor of Hawaii’s statehood. In 1959, the Hawaii Admission Act was passed by Congress, which paved the way for Hawaii to become the 50th state of the United States. The act was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and on August 21, 1959, Hawaii officially became a state.

Hawaii Admitted as the 50th State

The admission of Hawaii as the 50th state was a momentous occasion for both the people of Hawaii and the United States as a whole. It marked the end of a long journey towards statehood and solidified Hawaii’s place as an integral part of the United States.

Since becoming a state, Hawaii has continued to thrive and contribute to the cultural, economic, and political fabric of the United States. Its unique blend of indigenous Hawaiian, Asian, and Western influences has shaped its identity and made it a popular destination for visitors from around the world.

For more information about Hawaii’s path to statehood, you can visit for a comprehensive overview of the historical events and political debates that led to Hawaii becoming a state.


In December 1941, Hawaii was clearly not yet a fully incorporated US state, but it was an organized incorporated territory on its way to gaining greater autonomy and representation. The attack on Pearl Harbor was a major catalyst which hastened Hawaii’s path toward statehood after the war. Despite its territorial status, Hawaii played a key role in America’s victory in World War II across all fronts. The events of that war fundamentally reshaped Hawaii’s relationship with the continental US and led to it becoming the 50th state in 1959.

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts