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Timeline of Kahoolawe's History

A timeline of the history of Kahoolawe Island in Hawaii.

Early History

Kahoolawe was settled by Polynesians immigrating from other South Pacific islands to Hawaii. The population of Kahoolawe was probably always small because of the lack of fresh water on the island. Population centers were mostly small fishing villages along the coast.


Captain George Vancover gave goats to Chief Kahekili of Maui as a gift and goats were introduced to Kahoolawe Island.


Penal Colony (1830's - 1953)

According to a 1957 survey, by 1857 Kahoolawe had about 50 residents, about 5,000 acres of land covered with shrubs scrub trees and pili grass. Some cultivation of sugar cane, pineapple, tobacco and gourds was also noted in that study.

The Hawaiian government began leasing Kahoolawe lands for ranching purposes, however the lack of fresh water limited the success of those operations. Ranching of cattle, sheep, and goats continued on the island through the 1940's. A negative impact of uncontrolled grazing was the substantial loss of soil due to erosion caused by livestock consuming much of the vegetation on the island.


Kahoolawe Island Forest Reserve (1910-1918)
The island of Kahoolawe was designated a forest reserve between 1910 and 1918 by the Territory of Hawaii in an effort to revegetate the island by removing livestock. At the end of that program leases again became available

Angus MacPhee of Wyoming leased the island of Kahoolawe for 21 years to operate it as a cattle ranch. He operated a ranch on Kahoolawe Island until the 1940's. Ranching was always difficulty on the island because of the constant threat of drought. After his ranching ceased MacPhee leased some of his lands to the U.S. Military.

The U.S. military began using Kahoolawe Island as a training ground and bombing range after the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

1853 President Eisenhower transferred title of Kahoolawe to the United States Navy. A condition of the transfer was that the lands be returned in a condition suitable for habitation when they were no longer needed by the military.

Operation Sailor Hat was launched in early 1965 to test and determine the blast resistance of ships. Three tests off the coast of Kahoolawe subected the island and the target ships to massive explosions. 500 tons of TNT were detonated on the island near the target ship, the USS Atlanta (CL-104). The blast created a crater on the island known as "Sailor Man's Cap".

Members of the "Protect Kahoolawe Ohana" organization launched a series of occupations of Kahoolawe in an effort to stop military bombing. They also filed a lawsuit in U.S. Federal court to stop the U.S. Navy from using the island as a bombing range.

1976 January 6
Protest of 1976 and the Kahoolawe Nine

The U.S. District Court allowed the Navy to continue using the island but directed them to prepare an environmental impact statement and prepare an inventory of historic sites on the island.

Kahoolawe Archaeological District Designation

President George Bush, Sr. orders the end of bombing operations on Kahoolawe.

Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawai‘i) sponsors Title X of the 1994 Department of Defense Appropriations Act, which authorizes conveyance of Kahoolawe and its surrounding waters back to the State of Hawai‘i.

The Hawaiian State Legislature established the Kahoolawe Island Reserve, which included the entire island and ocean waters in a two mile radius from the shoreline.

The U.S. Congress votes to end military use of Kahoolawe and authorizes $400 million for ordnance removal.

The Jnited States navy deeded ownership of Kahoolawe to the State of Hawaii and the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission is established to manage all activities on the island.

The United States Navy awarded contracts for removing unexploded bombs and other hazardous materials from Kahoolawe Island. Those removal operations took place between 1998 and 2003.


A ceremony formaly transferring access control from the United States Navy to the State of Hawaii was held at the Iolani Palace on November 11, 2003.

The U.S.Navy ended the Kahoolawe UXO Clearance Project in 2004. At that time 75% of the island was cleared and about 2,650 acres of the cleared area was cleared to a depth of four feet. About 25% of the island remained uncleared and unsafe.

Early to Mid-2000's
Funding was allocated and projects were implemented to limit erosion and minimize loss of soil due to sediment moving from land to the ocean.

The History of Kahoolawe Island

About the island of Kahoolawe

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