On This Day: Hawaii becomes most recent U.S. state

On This Day: Hawaii becomes most recent U.S. state

AUGUST 21, 1959: Hawaii became the 50th and most recent state to be admitted to the American union on this day in 1959 – triggering wild hula-style celebrations.

The Pacific islands – discovered by Britain’s Captain James Cook in 1788 - had been a U.S. territory since 1898 when it ceased to be an independent nation.

Residents, who by 1959 included a majority with foreign ancestors, had long had their battle for statehood held back by the “Big Five” growers of sugar, fruit and coffee.

But the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ensured the interests of businesses in keeping lax labour and immigration laws played second fiddle to those of the U.S. military.

Hawaii’s eight main islands and 122 smaller ones became key to the American war effort and many of the stationed troops and sailors chose to settle there afterwards.

The gathering strength of trade unions, enlarged military presence, a new tourism industry and increased post-war prosperity eventually broke the hold of the Big Five.

Islanders, who despite being U.S. citizens were denied the full rights of statehood, loosened their grip after the Democrats beat the Republicans in the 1954 elections.

It paved the way for talks with the Federal Government in Washington, which agreed to statehood in March 1959 – two months after Alaska was admitted to the union.

A British Pathé newsreel captured the moment President Dwight D Eisenhower signed Congress’s Hawaii Administration Act into law.

Later footage also shows the resulting celebrations - including bonfires and hula dancers in Honalulu Stadium – after Hawaii was finally admitted to the union.

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It meant that voters Aloha State could participate in elections for the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives as well as the President.

Like all states, it was granted two senators – bringing the total to 100 – and two representatives of the 435-member House, who represent districts of equal population.

Now, despite only accounting for 1.3million of America’s 300million people and being 2,500 miles from the mainland, it punches well above its weight.

Barack Obama was the first Hawaiian to be elected president in 2004 – ensuring the islands joined an elite club of 21 states where Commanders-in-Chiefs have been born.

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It is also the fifth richest state in the union – with tourism now by far the biggest industry – with a median household income of $67,116 (£42,944).

The U.S. has several other territories, although few have been considered for statehood except Puerto Rico.