Hawaii became a unique tourist attraction early in the 20th century just as postcards were becoming firmly established as a means of colorful promotion and communication.
Early 1900s Hawaiian postcards typically might present views of natives gathering sugar cane or pineapples. Other views might depict residences of the former royal family.
A paradise in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii was comprised of eight islands of the main group when it was governed entirely by royalty. When Hawaii’s King Kalauaua died in 1891, his sister Queen Liliuokalani ascended to the throne. However as the region became more and more attractive as a trade base and possible military site, it became a prize territory.
Hawaii was proclaimed a republic briefly in 1894, but was finally annexed by the United States in 1898 by a joint resolution of Congress.
During the early 1900s the Hawaiian Islands were considered a first class or “organized” territory, which allowed a local legislature. Citizens who could speak, read, and write the English or Hawaiian language were granted voting rights. The United States saw the location of Hawaii as a prime site for military and naval operations throughout the first half of the 20th century. Those in the military became tourists, as did members of their families.
By the 1930s the economic control began to shift in part from wealthy landowners to organized labor and tourist interests. Historically sugar cane and pineapples had been major industries for the islands, and gradually they were overtaken by tourism.
In 1935 a major postcard producer, Curteich and Company of Chicago, issued views proclaiming Hawaii as “the world’s enchanted island playground.” Other Curteich postcards assured, “you find enchanted mountains and bewitching beaches, music and beauty everywhere.” Postcard scenes include the National Park, Rainbow Falls, the Valley Island of Maui, and the Garden Island of Kauai. Also included were the scenic wonders of Nuuanu Pali, and the Mormon Temple at Lai.
“Perhaps you will be honored by a luau (native feast), and there you’ll see the real Hawaiian hula,” noted on Curt Teich souvenir folder. “The Hawaiians say if you visit the Islands once you’ll always want to return. There is magic in coral reefs and slanting palms.”
Of course tranquil Hawaii exploded into World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces in December of 1941. Hawaii continued to play a key role as a military base of operations throughout the decade of the 1940s.
During the 1940s, a number of postcards were published and marketed by the Royal Hawaiian Distributing Company in Honolulu. Such postcards offered colorful views of surfboard riding and canoeing at famed Waikiki Beach and swimming at Diamond Head. Postcards billed swimming as an activity available “year round, day or night, to enhance this land of enchantment.”
Royal Hawaiian postcards of the 1940s often featured hula troupes, net fishing, the Royal Hawaiian hotel, native families in grass shacks, and the palace of the royal family. During the 1940s a number of black and white real photo postcards were made available to men and women in the military service to illustrate the islands for the folks back home.