Before the tragic events of that Sunday morning, Pearl Harbor was little known to the rest of the world. When Captain James Cook, the British navigator, “discovered” the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, Pearl Harbor was called “Wai Momi,” meaning “water of pearl,” taking its name from the pearl oysters that thrive in its waters. In those early days, Pearl Harbor was not considered suitable as a port site because a dead coral reef blocked its entrance to all but shallow draft vessels. It remained undeveloped until the late 19th century, when several nations sought to obtain it as a fuel and supply base.
In 1840, a far-seeing U. S. Navy lieutenant named Charles Wilkes led a geodetic expedition to the South Seas, stopping in Hawaii. While surveying the Pearl Harbor estuary, he discovered that the dead coral reef blocked the entrance to the harbor. He reported that “if the water upon the bar should be deepened, which I doubt not can be effected, it would afford the best and most capacious harbor in the Pacific.
” Six years later an English sea captain made a British bid for the inlet, sending word back to Queen Victoria that all the ships in the world could fit into Pearl River, as it was then called. In 1873, Major General J. M. Schofield and Lieutenant Colonel B. S.
Alexander were sent to Honolulu to inspect the defensive capacity of Oahu. They reported that “Pearl River is a fine sheet of deep water extending inland about six miles from its mouth, the depth of water after passing the bar is ample for any vessel. The method of removal of the dead coral reef and the cost involved were also discussed in their report to Washington D. C. A long period of negotiations followed with the Hawaiian monarchy, ending with the United States obtaining exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor in 1884. In exchange, Congress agreed to allow Hawaiian sugar to enter the United States duty free.
Clearing the coral bar across the harbor entrance was delayed for nearly two decades until the Spanish American War confirmed the strategic value of Pearl Harbor as an advance naval base. It was not until 1900 that dredging of the entrance was begun. In 1908, the Appropriation Action of 13 May declared that the “Secretary of the Navy is hereby authorized and directed to establish a naval station at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on the site heretofore acquired for that purpose and to erect there all the necessary machine shops, storehouses, coal sheds, and other necessary buildings. .
. ” Serious development of Pearl Harbor began with a $6,200,000 appropriation from Congress. Initial work included dredging the channel, building workshops and constructing Dry Dock No. 1. By 1916 Pearl Harbor ranked tenth in value among the Navy’s growing bases. The 14th Naval District, with headquarters at Pearl Harbor, was established the same year, and three years later a $27,000,000 construction program was launched.
Activity at Pearl Harbor reached an all-time peak during World War II, when the civilian force at the naval shipyard climbed to 26,000 employees. Today, Pearl Harbor is the Navy’s most important island base in the Pacific. From a small coaling station, it has grown into a busy city in itself, with over 160 naval commands and a network of shops, churches, clubs, restaurants, recreational facilities and offices serving as the hub of activity for Hawaii’s Navy and Marine Corps personnel and their family members. The U. S.
Navy’s history in Hawaii goes back more than 100 years. It was in the 1860s that a coaling station was established in Honolulu to refuel our coal burning ships. An 1887 treaty with King Kalakaua granted the United States exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor and permission to construct a coaling station and repair facility inside the harbor. It wasnt until the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898 that the need for Pearl Harbors support base became apparent.
A year later a Naval Coal Depot was built and in 1899 dredging began to clear a channel for ships to enter the harbor.The Pearl Harbor shore .