Remembering Pearl Harbor

On this National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, as we honor those who died in the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, we also celebrate the history of the Pearl Harbor naval base itself.  The United States Navy had a presence in Hawaii since 1887, when it first acquired the right to establish a coal fueling and ship repair station at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu. At the time, the harbor was too shallow to accommodate large ships, so it was not until 1908, when the naval station was formally established and construction began on the first dry dock, that the base began to grow steadily, finally becoming the home port of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in February 1941.

Engraved souvenir cigarette case, circa 1940 (DHS collection, gift of Sherry Thompson)

This period of boom growth created by the base during the early years of the twentieth century really boosted the island’s economy as both military and civilian employees flocked to the island to take advantage of new job opportunities. This influx of new people was also a ready market for producers of souvenirs. A steel souvenir cigarette case from our collection, which dates to circa 1940, shows how central the military presence on the island became.

The lid of the case has an image of the island of Oahu that is engraved with some of its main points of interest. Even then, Pearl Harbor and other military installations such as Schofield Army Barracks and Barber’s Point Airfield were noted alongside cultural attractions such as the Laie Hawaii Mormon Temple (1919), the statue of King Kamehameha I (1883), and the Aloha Tower lighthouse (1926). Even after the attack, the naval station at Pearl Harbor remained resilient and went on play a vital support role in World War II and beyond.  It remains an active base to this day.


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