Hawaii (state), only island state and the southernmost state in the United States. Hawaii consists of the Hawaiian Islands and a few other geographically unrelated islets located near the center of the northern Pacific Ocean. The state is composed of eight main islands and 124 islets, reefs, and shoals. Honolulu, the capital and largest city of Hawaii, lies about 3,900 km (about 2,400 mi) from the western coast of the United States mainland. The Aloha State, as Hawaii was officially nicknamed upon becoming the 50th state of the Union on August 21, 1959, occupies a land area almost wholly volcanic in origin. Some small areas above sea level consist of limestone derived from ancient coral reefs. These reefs were formed during periods when the sea level was higher than it is now.
The diverse scenery in Hawaii also includes mountains rising to more than 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea level; great stretches of barren lava beds; golden beaches rimmed by palm trees; magnificent cliffs and brightly colored canyons; dense rain forests and arid thorny scrublands; and a multi-hued patchwork of field and forest. The Hawaiian Islands were originally settled by Polynesian immigrants more than 1,000 years ago but probably remained unknown beyond Polynesia until Captain James Cook reached the islands in 1778.
He named them the Sandwich Islands in honor of his patron, John Montagu, the fourth earl of Sandwich. In 1796 King Kamehameha I united the islands into a single independent kingdom. In 1893 the Hawaiian monarch was deposed, and Hawaii became successively a republic in 1894, a U.S. possession in 1898, and a U.S. territory in 1900. During the last half of the 19th century, Hawaii developed a plantation economy based on the cultivation of sugar and, later, pineapples, for export. Thousands of immigrants, mostly from Asia, came to work on the plantations. The name of the state is taken from that of the island of Hawaii and is a Polynesian word of uncertain meaning. In the 19th century the name was extended to the entire archipelago.
Hawaii’s place in modern world history was set on December 7, 1941, when a massive Japanese air attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor and other military installations in Hawaii precipitated the United States’ entry into World War II. Hawaii’s role as one of the forward bases of U.S. military power has continued to the present day. Hawaii’s postwar years were also marked by the diversification of its economy, with a great expansion of tourism, military expenditure, and some industry, and by admission to the Union in 1959. Hawaii is the only state where all the people belong to what are, in Hawaii, minority groups. There is little racial discrimination, although it is not entirely absent. For the most part, the state’s residents live in a society that represents a uniquely harmonious fusion of races, languages, religions, and cultures. Most of the residents of Hawaii do not usually call themselves Hawaiians. They tend to reserve this term for those of their fellow citizens who have Hawaiian ancestry. A growing movement in Hawaii is to use diacritical marks to guide the pronunciation of Hawaiian names. For this article, the publisher has chosen to retain spellings more familiar to readers. Encarta © "United States" © Emmanuel Buchot and Encarta
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