Hawaiian immigration to the United States began in the late 19th century, when Hawaiians traveled to the mainland to study or work. Many native Hawaiians immigrated after a U.S. coup overthrew the native Hawaiian monarchy in 1898 and installed a provisional government led by White businessmen. The islands became a U.S. territory in 1900 and the fiftieth U.S. state in 1959. In the 2020 U.S. Federal census, 1.568 million people (0.5% percent of the total population) self-identified as Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone or in Combination.

The United States Postal Service has issued numerous stamps honoring Hawaiian culture and history. These stamps have featured images of Hawaiian monarchs, native flora and fauna, and traditional arts and crafts.

Hawaii overprint on underlying stamp picturing President Theodore Roosevelt
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5¢ Hawai’i Sesquicentenary single, 1928

The first U.S. postage stamp to mention Hawai’i was a hastily overprinted issue marking the sesquicentennial of Captain James Cook’s 1978 landing in the Hawaiian Islands. The underlying stamp pictures President Theodore Roosevelt, who was vice president at the time the U.S. seized Hawai’i and described it as "a necessary and desirable step.”

3 cent King Kamehameha I
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3¢ Hawai’i (Territorial Series), 1937

King Kamehameha I established the Hawaiian monarchy in 1795 and united all the islands under a single government for the first time in 1810. This stamp is based on a statue in Honolulu that was originally installed in 1883 and still stands outside the Hawai’i Supreme Court building.

Hawaii Statehood stamp featuring King Kamehameha I and a map of Hawaii
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7¢ Hawai’i Statehood issue single, 1959

The second U.S. stamp feature King Kamehameha I was issued in 1959. On June 27, Hawaiians voted to join the United States as the fiftieth state. Although the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of statehood, the issue reopened debates about the way the U.S. had seized the islands sixty years before and sparked new discussions around Hawaiian independence.

11 cent National Parks Centennial stamp portraying a statute of Ki’i, an ancient god of the Hawaiian people
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11¢ National Parks Centennial airmail single, 1972

This dramatic postage stamp from 1972 depicts a ki’i, or sacred wooden carving, found at the City of Refuge on the island of Hawai’i. Originally a sanctuary for early Hawaiians seeking purification from temple priests after breaking a cultural or religious or escaping from enemies, City of Refuge has been a National Historic Park administered by the National Park Service since 1961.

13 cent Captain James Cook stamp depicting Cook’s ships Discovery and Resolution in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii
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13¢ Resolution and Discovery single, 1978

Issued for the bicentennial of Captain James Cook’s visit to Hawai’i in 1778, this stamp shows his vessels HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery in Hawaiian waters. Together the ships had a crew of about 180 sailors—and 22 cannons. Cook was killed in Hawai’i a few months later while attempting to kidnap a native Hawaiian chief. The Cook expedition marked the beginning of Hawai’i’s long involvement with, and exploitation by, foreign powers.

Hawaii flag stamp with the British Union Jack flag shown in the left corner in recognition of Great Britain’s early friendship and goodwill with Hawaii in the mid-19th century.
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42 cent stamp featuring the Hawaii flag and plants
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13¢ Hawai’i single, 1976 and
42¢ Hawai’i Flag and Ohia Lehua Flowers coil single, 2009

Two U.S. stamps have featured Hawai’is official state flag, which consists of the British flag in the field and eight alternating red, white, and blue stripes. Designed by King Kamehameha I in 1816, some version of it has been in continuous use ever since. It is the only U.S. state flag incorporating a foreign country‘s flag as a major design element, and the only one that formerly belonged to a monarchy.

20 cent Hawai’i Statehood stamp with illustration of a Polynesian canoe and bird
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20¢ Hawai’i Statehood issue single, 1984

This commemorative stamp marked the 25th anniversary of the State of Hawai’i. The dominant feature of the design is a wa’a kaulua, an ancient double-hulled Polynesian canoe made of wood, fiber and rope that enabled long-distance travel and trade and remains an enduring symbol of Hawai’i today. It has the distinction of being the first U.S. stamp featuring artwork by a Polynesian American artist, Herb Kawainui Kāne (1928–2011).

Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor stamp showing a ship in flames
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Stamp featuring USS Arizona Memorial
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29¢ Pearl Harbor single, 1992 and
$19.99 American Landmarks: USS Arizona Memorial single

American expansion into the Hawaiian Islands in the late 19th century was motivated partly by the desire for naval stations in the Pacific Ocean. The base at Pearl Harbor, established in 1908, became the home port of the U.S. Pacific Fleet and was the site of a devastating attack on December 7, 1941 that brought the United States into the Second World War. The construction of military bases during and after the war displaced native Hawaiians and changed the islands’ demographics. Active and retired military personnel and their families, for example, were a major voting bloc in favor of Hawaiian statehood in 1959.    

pane of four with Hawaiian Missionary stamps
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37¢ Hawaiian “Missionary” stamps pane of four, 2002

The Hawaiian “Missionary” stamps were issued by the White postmaster at Honolulu in 1851-52 for the use of Protestant missionaries in writing to each other and to relatives and sponsors in the United States. The missionaries established churches, schools, and medical institutions in the islands, but they also brought new diseases and imposed Western values that had devastating effects on traditional culture.

Stamp with illustration of Duke Kahanamoku
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37¢ Duke Kahanamoku single, 2002

Duke Kahanamoku was a gifted athlete and businessman of royal Native Hawaiian ancestry. He won gold medals in freestyle swimming at the 1912 and 1920 Olympics before going on to open a successful surf shop in Waikiki. The California surfing craze of the 1950s and 1960s was due, in large part, to his efforts to popularize the traditional Polynesian activity as a modern sport. He was also a major promoter of Hawaiian tourism.

Stamp with illustration of a surfer and an outrigger canoe on an ocean wave
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44¢ Surfer and Outrigger Canoe single, 2009

A modern surfer and a traditional outrigger canoe catch the same wave on this 2009 commemorative stamp. Like the 1984 Hawaiian Statehood commemorative stamp, the artwork for this stamp was painted by Herb Kāne (1928–2011), whose paintings and written histories helped revive interest in traditional Hawaiian culture and learning in the late twentieth century.

Aloha stamp featuring a short sleeve, button down Hawaiian shirt
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32¢ Aloha Shirts: Bird of Paradise Flowers single, 2012

Light, breathable, and colorful aloha shirts developed in Hawai’i in the 1930s and were brought to the United States by returning tourists and military personnel. President Harry Truman was pictured on the cover of Life magazine wearing one in 1951, and it soon the “Hawaiian shirt,” as it became known on the mainland, featured in Hollywood movies.

See also:
32¢ Aloha Shirt: Surfers and Palm Trees single
32¢ Aloha Shirt: Surfers single
32¢ Aloha Shirt: Kilauea Volcano single
32¢ Aloha Shirt: Fish and Starfish single