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A 1950s tour guide to Hawaii: See what the islands looked like before becoming the 50th state

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Vintage postcards of Hawaii from the 50s
Even before Hawaii became an American state in 1959, it was a top tourist destination for both mainlanders and people from all around the globe.

The flight from San Francisco to Honolulu took more than eight hours, and was not cheap, but rave reviews from visitors who made the trek kept the tourists coming.

Those who could make the trip were rewarded with leis at the airport, lots of uncrowded beaches, and a landscape with far fewer hotels and buildings than we see now.

Take a look back with us to see Hawaii as it looked back in the fifties!

Hawaii in 1959 - Life (4)

Hawaii: Beauty, wealth, amiable people (LIFE, 1959)

The first proposal to make Hawaii a state was put forward more than a hundred years ago, when President Franklin Pierce cast his eyes across the Pacific and proposed that the splendid and strategic islands be taken into the union. Pierce’s plan faded, and it was not until 1898 that Hawaii was annexed as a U.S. territory.

Proposals to make Hawaii a state have been on the books of Congress for the past 40 years. Now it seems almost certain that in this session Hawaii will achieve its aim.

Hawaii in 1959 - Life (1)

Since they were discovered by Captain James Cook in 1778, a swift current of modernization has coursed through the idyllic islands. Long before Cook came, in the 12th Century, handsome and vigorous Polynesians from Tahiti sailed with their livestock across thousands of miles of ocean to settle Hawaii.

They lived in a Stone Age civilization where tribal chiefs were chosen from the biggest men and often weighed 300 to 500 pounds. But after Cook’s arrival, all that was quickly put aside.

By 1810, the greatest figure in Hawaiian history, King Kamehameha I, with his redoubtable war canoes brought all the islands under his single rule. U.S. and European powers began to vie for influence.

American interests were much advanced by missionaries who Christianized the Hawaiians and helped the kings put the monarchy on a constitutional foundation. In the 1890s, rebels deposed Queen Liliuokalani, composer of the famous song Aloha Oe, and achieved annexation to the U.S.

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Hawaii in 1959 - Life (6)

As a territory, Hawaii has developed a sturdy economy based on U.S. military expenditures at Pearl Harbor and elsewhere, and on sugar, pineapple, tourism and livestock.

The islands, which have a total area roughly that of New Jersey, have bred an incredibly polyglot and racially integrated population of nearly 600,000. This means that Hawaiian statehood, besides conferring full U.S. status on a potentially rich and decidedly vital area, would also indicate to all the peoples of the Pacific and of Asia that the U.S. can still be the tolerant, hospitable melting pot of old.

Hawaii in 1959 - Life (3)


The Hawaiian islands (as described in 1956)

HAWAII, biggest island in the Hawaiian Chain, is a land of infinite contrasts. A thrill-packed tour of the “Big Island” will reveal to you that nature worked overtime when she fashioned this isle of grandeur.

You will see awesome lava-encrusted slopes of mountains — often snow-capped in winter. Coral cliffs, plunging ravines, serene waterfalls, sleepy bays and inlets present startling examples of Hawaii’s many wonders.

The “Valley Isle” of MAUI offers the visitor an ever-changing aspect of picturesque tropical life. The formidable 4,000-foot rock spire called the Needle juts out of Iao Valley. Whispering in the breeze on the lower hills and plains are field upon field of sugar cane.

The unique silversword plant is found growing in the vast stillness of Haleakala, the dormant volcano.

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Vintage Hawaii in the 1950s (7)

The Island of KAUAI is aptly termed the “Garden Isle.” This one perhaps comes closest to your childhood dreams of an island paradise.

Kauai’s verdant foliage, primitive, untainted loveliness and breathtaking scenery will leave you spellbound. Waimea Canyon, Napali Cliffs, tranquil waterfalls, hushed grottos, and the lush green Hanalei Valley are but a few of the enthralling sights that await you on this exquisite isle.

MOLOKAI presents a land of modern ranches and plantations in a setting of old Hawaiian folklore. The friendly spirit and peaceful nature of this island will furnish you with rich memories of your Hawaiian visit.

LANAI, lying in the lee of Maui and Molokai, is the smallest of the six major isles. Its population of 2,778 people live a simple life in the model town of Lanai City. They raise pineapples on the world’s largest plantation on this gentle island.

Vintage Hawaii in the 1950s (8)


Hawaii: Where it is and how to get there (1956)

Located at a point in the sub-tropics where sunshine and trade winds meet on most delightful terms, Hawaii is some 2200 miles southwest of San Francisco. A luxury liner takes you there in 4-1/2 days — a great modern plane in 8-1/3 hours.

You can leave from any one of five different Pacific Coast points — San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. And you can vary your itinerary by returning to any of the five.

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You have a choice of several air and steamship lines providing direct service between Hawaii and the Pacific Coast, and stopovers on through service to and from the Orient, the South Pacific and around the world.

You can enjoy a wonderful visit in Hawaii within the usual two weeks vacation… with a week in the Islands if you go one way by ship, up to twelve days if you fly both ways. But Hawaii will well reward a longer stay.

Hawaii in 1959 - Life (5)


From the ’50s: Facts you need to plan your trip

HAWAII IS AMERICAN SOIL — It uses the same currency and has the same postal rates as mainland United States. American citizens need no passport and pay no customs duties on goods brought to or from the mainland.

WEATHER — Predominantly sunny. Cool trade winds moderate the sub-tropical temperature — it varies less than ten degrees between summer and winter and between noon and midnight.

WHAT TO WEAR — Light clothing running largely to sportswear is worn throughout the year. A light wrap is desirable for cool evenings, especially at mountain resorts. Sports jackets suffice for men. Formal dress, although not essential, is worn in leading hotels. Travel light and complete your shopping in Hawaii, where smart, well-stocked stores offer a wide selection of attire especially designed for island wear.

Vintage Hawaii in the 1950s (4)

SPORTS — Golf and tennis are played on all major islands. Sailing yachts, motor launches and motor cruisers with gear for deep-sea fishing may be rented. There is some wild boar hunting, for which arrangements should be made in advance.

LOCAL TRANSPORTATION — Touring services provide sightseeing facilities on all major islands. Cars are in charge of expert drivers who also make interesting guides. Drive-yourself cars and taxis are also available. Honolulu’s modern transit system covers the city.

HOTELS — Every major island has excellent hotels that maintain high standards in food, accommodations and service. Rates vary widely — you can choose a hotel which fits your budget. Reservations should be made in advance to assure the accommodations you desire.

Vintage postcards of Hawaii from the 1950s

OVERSEAS TRANSPORTATION — American, Canadian, Australian, British and Japanese transportation lines make Hawaii a mid-ocean terminal. Following is a general outline of the services they provide. The information given is subject to change without notice. In planning a trip to Hawaii you should check fares, schedules and other details either with the transportation line you select or with your Travel Agent.

CANADIAN PACIFIC AIRLINES- — One flight weekly, Super DC-6’s, be- tween Sydney, Australia and Vancouver via Fiji and Auckland. Passage may be booked between Honolulu and any of these points. Also, one local flight weekly between Honolulu and Vancouver during winter season.

JAPAN AIR LINES — Weekly flights of DC-6B Pacific Couriers from San Francisco to Tokyo, with stopovers possible at Honolulu. Passengers may be booked from Honolulu to Tokyo. Connections at San Francisco with transcontinental domestic airlines; also with international carriers to South America.

NORTHWEST ORIENT AIRLINES — Air Tourist flights from Seattle and Portland to Honolulu providing connections with either Ait Tourist or Stratocruiser flights from New York, Chicago and other Eastern cities.

Visiting hawaii in the 1950s - vintage tourism (1)

PAN AMERICAN WORLD AIRWAYS — Frequent day and night luxury President flights from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle-Tacoma, plus daily Tourist “Strato” Clipper from California. Connections at the gateways with transcontinental airlines. Through passengers en route between California and the Orient or South Pacific and on ‘Round-the-World flights may stop over at Honolulu.

QANTAS EMPIRE AIRWAYS — Three flights weekly of Super-Constellations between Vancouver, B. C., and the South Pacific (Fiji, New Zealand, Australia) with stopovers at Honolulu. Passage may be booked between Honolulu and either Vancouver or South Pacific points.

TRANSOCEAN AIR LINES — Passenger and cargo service between Honolulu and mainland and between Honolulu and Guam. A U. S. registered common carrier offering nonscheduled service.

UNITED AIR LINES — Daily service of fast first-class DC-7 Mainliners or low-cost air coach trips link San Francisco and Los Angeles with Honolulu, providing direct connections from 80 key mainland cities on United’s coast-to-coast, Pacific Coast and Hawaii system.

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LIFE Aug 31, 1959 Hawaii women 2

There is only one Hawaii

In fancy, you have often pictured an ideal vacation land. Let it be your measure of Hawaii. A place as beautiful as it is alluring… the perfect escape from humdrum existence… with a climate that will be delightful whenever you are free to come.

A place where life is mostly out-of-doors… with new, fascinating sports and pastimes, and familiar ones in entirely new settings. A land that has color… glamour… fragrance… laughter… that richly rewards the length of your stay. 

Vintage 1956 postcard Hawaii Lurline ship

Steamships Serving Hawaii

AMERICAN PRESIDENT LINES — Sailings every two weeks from San Francisco. Passage may be booked to Honolulu on all lines. Stopovers at Honolulu for all through passengers to and from the Orient and on “Round-the-World tours.

HAWAIAN STEAMSHIP LINES — Tourist-type service between Pacific Coast and Hawaii due to commence mid-1955. ORIENT LINES — Frequent service provided from Sydney, Vancouver and San Francisco to Hawaii.

MATSON LINES — A sailing every 12 days of the “Lurline”’ between California and Hawaii. Mainland departures and arrivals alternate between San Francisco and Los Angeles, making a sailing every four weeks to and from each of these cities.

COMBINATION SEA-AIR TRAVEL — You may book one-way surface and the other on any of the scheduled airlines serving Hawaii. Limited passenger accommodations are provided on freighters serving Hawaii.

Inter-Island Transportation

All travel between the islands is by air except for limited service on freighters. Service is provided by two scheduled companies — Hawaiian Airlines and TPA-Aloha Airlines. Flights are shore and frequent and on convenient schedules.

Schedules & frequencies subject to change. Consult local agent.

Vintage Hawaii in the 1950s (5)

For a most enjoyable visit

To assist you in arranging a supremely delightful visit to Hawaii… and to help you after you arrive… is the function of the Hawaii Visitors Bureau.

We will be glad to send you booklets, folders, maps, any data you may request. You may obtain information also from any of the air and steamship lines serving Hawaii or from your Travel Agent.

When you arrive, contact the Visitors Bureau for current tours, entertainment and special events of interest to you. It will be a pleasure to welcome you to Hawaii!

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Hawaii - Sheraton hotels 1959

Hawaiian Airlines tour guide & route map (1956)

Vintage Hawaii in the 1950s (3)

Your guide to Hawaii

Aloha and welcome to the Hawaiian Islands. The people of Hawaii and the business firms participating in this magazine extend to you their sincere wishes for a pleasant visit. We’re glad to have you here.

You’ll find a somewhat different way of life in the Islands; we live and work at a slower, more leisurely pace. We’re on “Hawaiian time” — the local way of saying that we take our time to do things. You’ll be doing it too, in a day or so.

We wear less formal (and less) clothes; we take advantage of our climate; and there is always time to be friendly to newcomers.

As a visitor, you are important to the Islands. We’re used to tourists, as witness the fact that in 1955, 176,653 people arrived by commercial airliner alone, at Honolulu International Airport. We want you to have a good time.

Hawaii is noted for its sugar, its pineapples, its hulas — we’d like to have you decide is is also noted for its hospitality and the warmth and cordiality of its permanent residents.

Vintage Hawaii in the 1950s (12)

Vintage Hawaii in the 1950s (1)

Hawaii’s tropical allure

Hawaii’s tropical allure is a composite of all the Islands in its chain. Each is rich in natural and historic lore… each has a fascination of its own, found nowhere else. To appreciate fully the scenic splendors, the hospitable spirit and enchantment of the real Hawaii, you must visit all the major neighbor Islands.

You have probably looked forward to your visit for a long time. You will be spending hours or days to come a long way. Don’t stop just minutes short of the whole tropical wonderland you are traveling to see.

When you plan your trip to the neighbor Islands, specify travel via Hawaiian Airlines’ Royal Fleet. Only by doing so can you be assured of the finest, fastest air transportation available in Hawaii. Choose either modern, pressurized Convair 340s or new Douglas VIEWMASTERS with five-foot-wide panoramic windows. Hawaiian’s Convair 340 is Hawaii’s only aircraft pressured for your flying comfort.

“Hawaiian Hospitality” is the keynote of your flights to the neighbor Isles with Hawaiian Airlines. Nothing is left undone to help make your trips the most memorable occasion ever.

Hawaiian Airlines holds America’s all-time Safety Record with more than a quarter century of dependable service.

Vintage Hawaii in the 1950s (6)


Hawaii: The orchid island of the Hawaiian group (vintage brochure)

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Oahu: The aloha isle of Hawaii (vintage brochure)

Vintage Hawaii in the 1950s (10)


Maui: The valley island in Hawaii (vintage brochure)

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Vintage Hawaii in the 1950s (2)


STATEHOOD: Newspaper front page headlines when Hawaii became a state (1959)

Hawaii statehood newspaper 1959

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