The History of Hawai‘i From Our Files: Sailing to the Islands in 1921

For 133 years HONOLULU Magazine has kept its readers and advertisers at the vanguard of fashion, insight and fun. Starting out as “Paradise of the Pacific” in 1888 with a commission from King Kalākaua, we’re the oldest continuously published magazine west of the Mississippi. Here is a look into our archives.


From Our Files 1921 Ships Honolulu Harbor

A steamship and sailboat in Honolulu Harbor. Published in the January 1921 issue of Paradise of the Pacific.



Fifteen years before the first commercial flights landed in the Islands, Paradise heralded the arrival of the new 535 steamships to Hawai‘i’s harbors.


“The two steamers with which we shall be most familiar are the ‘Buckeye State’ and the ‘Hawkeye State,’ but these are only two of an enormous family of other states. …


“These vessels will be the last word in ship construction. They are 535 feet in length and are 50 feet deep, with a displacement of 25,800 tons, carrying 11,000 tons of cargo. They are oil burners and will carry a sufficient supply of oil to give a steam radius of 11,000 miles and will be capable of making 17 ½ knots. They will carry 269 first-class and 300 third-class passengers, but there will be no provision for second-class accommodations. These great vessels will each have four decks: a shelter deck, a full shade deck, bridge deck and boat deck. On the bridge deck will be situated the first-class social hall and smoking room, while the first-class dining saloon will be on the shelter deck. The promenade for first-class passengers on the bridge deck will have shelter screens forward and movable windows along the side. A great deal of mahogany will be used in the fittings and furniture. All handrails, heavy furniture, serving tables and sideboards, also all tables in dining saloons, will be of this beautiful hardwood. There will be a special tea room on the boat deck, probably adjoining the writing room, whose walls will be covered with beautiful lattice work. The tea room will be equipped with wicker tables of copper green, with heavy plate glass tops over cretonne. There will be large wicker chairs upholstered in cretonne and tapestry to match. The walls and ceiling of the ladies’ rest room will be covered with silk tapestry of light rose pink, while mahogany chairs upholstered in imitation will be very largely used. The principal staterooms will have twin beds and there will be many rooms with private baths. All cabins and staterooms will have electric heating for winter and electric fans for summer weather.


“An immensity of care has been lavished on these splendid products of the shipbuilders’ art. For solid comfort and convenience the new 535’s will compare more than favorably with the ostentatiously lavish interior arrangements of the ‘Leviathan’ and the great Cunarders.”


In 1941, the Buckeye State and Hawkeye State were given to the War Department, renamed, and began carrying troops to and from the West Coast and Australia, the Philippines and Shanghai. In November 1942, the Hawkeye, now called the Hugh L. Scott, was part of the Allied invasion of North Africa but later was sunk in port. The Buckeye, renamed in 1941 the Willard A. Holbrook, was later converted to a hospital ship during the war. It was eventually scrapped in 1957.


But ships kept coming to Hawai‘i. In 2019, more than 142,000 people arrived on cruises.



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