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It was as if we lit the fuse on a rocket. Hawaii’s 1959 induction into the United States set off an incredible flurry of enthusiasm and growth that seemed to change the Islands overnight.
For one, Hawaii’s people finally had a political voice—rather than being ruled by a territorial governor appointed by the president, they could now choose their own representation— and the home rule solidified the base of the Democratic Party which had come to power five years earlier.
The economy, too, got a big boost. Hawaii’s new legal status gave many national and international businesses the confidence they needed to invest and operate in the Islands, and modern developments such as Ala Moana Center began popping up everywhere. And with the arrival of regular jet service, Hawaii’s shores soon swelled with unprecedented crowds of tourists, leading in turn to furious construction and expansion all over the state to accommodate them all.
Fifty years later, Hawaii is still growing and changing, for the worse in some ways, but mostly for the better. In this story, we take a look at some of the most pivotal events of the past five decades: the triumphs, the tragedies, the little moments that have defined us as a state. Enjoy.
It’s strange to think about, but there has never been a time when Daniel Inouye did not represent the state of Hawaii in Congress. He became the state’s first congressman the day it was admitted into the Union, and he’s been in office ever since. Even before statehood, politics was not a new concept to the now-senator—he served as the majority leader of the Territorial House of Representatives in 1954 and was elected into the Territorial Senate in 1958.
The following year marked his move to Washington, D.C., where he served as the state’s representative until 1962 when he was elected U.S. senator, the first Japanese-American to serve either in the House or the Senate.
Today, he is the third most senior senator, and is serving his seventh consecutive term. Although he’s spent his career in Washington, D.C., his influence on Hawaii has been incalculable. Of particular note are the billions of dollars of federal money he’s funneled into the state, thanks to his position as chair of both the Senate Committee on Appropriations and the Senate Subcommittee on Defense.
Hawaii’s first regional shopping center, Ala Moana Center opened its doors a week prior to statehood. Who knew that it would one day be the world’s largest outdoor shopping center? Or that, in 1992, it would have four times more visitors than Disneyland? In its 50 years of operation Ala Moana has done just that, making it one of the nation’s highest grossing shopping centers. It opened its 680,000 square feet with 87 tenants, including Shirokiya and Sears, across two levels. By 1966, the center had doubled in size, and, with 155 stores and 7,800 parking stalls, was the largest in the nation. Since then, Ala Moana has undergone four other multimillion dollar expansions, growing to a 2.1-million-square-feet behemoth.