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With its vibrant culture, stunning landscapes, and rich history, the Hawaiian Islands have captivated visitors for centuries. If you’re wondering what makes Hawaii so special, here are five fascinating facts about America’s tropical paradise.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Hawaii has the only royal palace in the United States, its mountain peaks are still growing thanks to active volcanoes, Hawaiian pizza was invented in Canada, surfing originated in Hawaii centuries ago, and the state has its own time zone.

The Only Royal Palace in the U.S.

Iolani Palace History

The only royal palace in the United States is the Iolani Palace in Honolulu, Hawaii. Built between 1879 and 1882 under the reign of King Kalākaua and his sister and successor Queen Liliʻuokalani, Iolani Palace was the official residence of the Kingdom of Hawaii’s ruling monarchs.

The palace houses great historical significance. It was the center of power for Hawaii’s monarchy near the end of its rule over the islands. After the United States forcibly overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, the building was used to install the new government.

The rich architectural history also makes it a cultural landmark.

Some fascinating facts about Iolani Palace:

  • Construction cost was around $350,000 (over $8.5 million today). Funds came from the government treasury as well as bonds and private donors.
  • The cornerstone was laid December 31, 1879 with full Masonic rites.
  • The 4-story palace had sophisticated luxuries like electricity, telephones, plumbed indoor bathrooms, and hot/cold running water. At the time, even the White House didn’t have electricity or permanent toilets!
  • The basement and top floor served as servants’ quarters.
  • During the monarchy’s rule, the palace hosted grand balls and state dinners with hundreds of guests.
  • After the 1892 death of King Kalākaua, his sister Queen Liliʻuokalani ascended to the throne. She was later imprisoned inside her palace after the overthrow before it became the capitol building.

After the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, the provisional government controlled the palace as its capitol until it became the capitol building of the Territory of Hawaii. Emphasizing the U.S. takeover, the residence came to be known as the Iolani Barracks, the Iolani Prison, and later the U.S. Executive Building.

The palace was nearly demolished in the 1960s and restored in the 1970s. Today the beautifully preserved palace serves as a museum of 19th century Hawaiian history and culture. Over 250,000 people visit the National Historic Landmark each year.

Architectural Significance

The opulent American Florentine style building measures around 140 by 100 feet (43 x 30 meters). The impressive four-story palace was originally fitted with a central clock tower 95 feet (29 meters) tall, but lightning damage in 1895 resulted in its removal in 1911.

Some key architectural features of the Iolani Palace include:

  • Elaborate thrones for the King and Queen carved from native kou wood.
  • Ornate banners and coat of arms depicting the Hawaiian monarchy.
  • An iconic grand wooden staircase with detailed handcrafted mahogany bannisters.
  • Intricate plaster moldings and ceiling medallions shaped like Hawaiian flower designs.
  • Faux finishes of polished woodgrain and colored marble painted to resemble expensive imported materials.
  • Magnificent crystal chandeliers that originally lit the state rooms.
  • A gilt iron crown topping the roof as a symbol of the Hawaiian monarchy’s authority.

The palace today retains much of its original Victorian-era décor, furniture pieces, and rare artifacts from the days of Hawaiian royalty. Iolani Palace gives visitors a beautifully preserved experience of how members of an indigenous monarchy lived and governed from within its walls.

It remains the only official royal residence in U.S. history.

Still-Growing Volcanic Mountains

Mauna Loa and Kilauea

The Hawaiian Islands are home to some of the most active and impressive volcanoes on Earth. Two that stand out are Mauna Loa and Kilauea on the Big Island. At over 13,000 feet high, Mauna Loa is the largest volcano in the world when measured from its base at the sea floor.

Though not erupting at the moment, it has historically erupted over 30 times since written records began in 1843, with eruptions lasting anywhere from days to years. Its neighbor Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes, having erupted over 60 times in the last 65 years alone prior to 2018.

Its lava flows are generally effusive rather than explosive, oozing downslope towards the ocean and enabling visitors to safely view its eruptions. Though currently quiet, both volcanoes are still considered active and certain to erupt again one day.

Impact on Island Growth

The Hawaiian island chain was formed by a geological hot spot under the Pacific tectonic plate. As the plate shifts northwestward, volcanic eruptions from the hot spot have created a chain of islands and undersea mountains.

The southeastern islands are older, while the northwestern ones are younger with active volcanism. In fact, the Island of Hawaiʻi, home of Mauna Loa and Kilauea, is the youngest island less than 1 million years old.

It is estimated that a new island will form northwest of Kauaʻi in about 200,000 years as the process continues!

Ongoing eruptions from the active volcanoes, especially Mauna Loa and Kilauea, continually add more land area to Hawaiʻi Island even today. For example, Kilauea’s 2018 lower Puna eruption added over 560 acres of new land on the southeast part of the island.

Since written records began in 1823, the island has grown by over 50 square miles, increasing the total land area by over 20%. At this rate, expect the island to keep expanding for a long time thanks to these still-growing, slope-sliding mountains!

The True Origins of Hawaiian Pizza

A Canadian Invention

The Hawaiian pizza, with its sweet and savory combination of ham, pineapple, and cheese, has an origin story that takes us across the border to Canada. Contrary to popular belief, this unique pizza was not created in Hawaii.

In 1962, Sam Panopoulos, a Greek immigrant running a pizza restaurant in Chatham, Ontario, decided to experiment with some new toppings.

While pineapple and ham were already popular pizza toppings at the time, no one had combined them into one pizza. Panopoulos had the ingenious idea to pair the sweet tropical flavor of pineapple with the salty cured ham.

An instant hit with customers, he dubbed it the “Hawaiian” pizza as a clever marketing tactic. The name evoked images of a sunny Pacific paradise to entice customers in the cold Canadian winter.

The Hawaiian pizza slowly spread across Canada over the next decade. Then in the 1970s, as foreign travel boomed, tourists from Canada and the U.S. also began demanding the sweet and savory pizza they had tasted back home at pizzerias in Hawaii.

Soon pizza restaurants across the islands started putting the “Hawaiian pizza” on menus due to popular demand from tourists. An origin story had taken hold – but it was the wrong one!

So while Hawaiian pizza will forever be linked to those Pacific islands, we really have a clever Greek-Canadian pizza shop owner to thank for inventing this polarizing and yet addicting pizza combo.

Debunking Myths

Due to the name and popularity of Hawaiian pizza in the island chain, many assume it was created there, perhaps as some kind of pineapple-obsessed local specialty. However the true origins point to a decidedly non-tropical locale – 1960s Canada!

Some also speculate that Hawaiian pizza was invented by Italian immigrants or pizza chefs experimenting with new flavor combos. While Italians did bring pizza in its most basic Margherita form to the U.S., the inventor of Hawaiian pizza was Sam Panopoulos, a man of Greek descent running a pizza shop in small-town Ontario.

Birthplace of Surfing

Ancient Sport of Hawaiian Kings

Surfing originated in Hawaii several centuries ago as the ancient sport of Hawaiian kings and queens. According to Hawaiian legends, surfing was first practiced by chief Pa’ao, who brought the sport from Tahiti in the 6th century AD.

Ancient Hawaiians viewed surfing not only as a popular activity but also as a spiritual practice. They believed that wave riding connected them to the ocean and nature.

The early Hawaiian surfboards, called olo, were over 5 meters long and extremely heavy. Only highly skilled surfers could ride these boards. Surfing was considered a prestigious skill and kings would often compete to showcase their wave riding talents.

By the 15th century, surfing had become a central part of Hawaiian culture with commoners taking up the sport alongside nobles.

Legendary Surfing Traditions

Ancient Hawaiians infused surfing with rich traditions and rituals. Prior to surfing, kings would pray to the gods for good waves and protection. Special wood carvers known as kalai wa’a crafted surfboards to precise shapes and dimensions. Surf spots also had names connecting them to Hawaiian lore.

For instance, the legendary surf break Pipeline relates to the initial immigration site of ancient Polynesians to Hawaii.

During the early 20th century, novelist Jack London and Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku introduced surfing to the world. This sparked a global surf craze establishing Hawaii as the epicenter of international surf culture.

Today, Hawaii hosts prestigious pro surfing events and attracts surfers from all over seeking its perfect waves. With surf tourism bringing in $800 million annually, it’s clear Hawaii remains the heart of surfing even centuries after its kings ruled the waves.

Hawaii Time Zone

Geography Behind the Time Difference

Hawaii is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, over 2,000 miles from the west coast of the continental United States. This extreme geographic isolation is the reason why Hawaii has its own unique time zone, Hawaiian Standard Time (HST), which is 2 hours behind Pacific Standard Time (PST) and 5 hours behind Eastern Standard Time (EST).

The clock in Hawaii is set based on its longitude in relation to the prime meridian line that passes through Greenwich, England. Places west of the prime meridian are assigned negative longitudes while places to the east have positive longitude values.

Hawaii’s location means sunlight reaches the islands much earlier than locations on the continent. If Hawaii shared the same time zone as other states, the sun would rise and set very early or late compared to local clocks.

Having its own time zone puts Hawaii’s daylight hours more in line with people’s typical sleep-wake cycle.

Impacts on Commerce and Culture

Hawaii’s unique time zone affects business operations and interpersonal communications between the islands and mainland US. The 5-hour gap with the East Coast and 2-hour difference with the West Coast must be accounted for when scheduling phone calls, online meetings, and business travel.

The time zone difference can make real-time collaboration complicated across locations. Many Hawaii-based companies set their operating hours to bridge the gap so they can connect with mainland contacts.

In terms of cultural impacts, Hawaii residents strongly identify with island time, which is a relaxed, no-rush attitude and emphasis on enjoying the moment rather than rigid schedules. Island time may have roots in Hawaii’s geographic isolation and more relaxed pace compared to big cities on the continent.

However, the modern lifestyle still requires coordinating with mainland and international businesses. So residents shift between the easygoing island time mindset and precisely scheduled calls and meetings tied to far away time zones.


As you can see, Hawaii is much more than just beaches and hula dances – it’s a place with a rich culture, storied history, unique geography, and customs all its own. Understanding a few fun Hawaii facts gives you an insider’s glimpse at what makes this Pacific paradise so one-of-a-kind.

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