ca. 500 CE – First human beings to set foot on Hawaiian shores are Polynesians, who travel 2,000 mi in 60 to 80-foot canoes to the islands they name Havaiki after their legendary homeland. Researchers today believe they were originally from Southeast Asia , and that they discovered the South Pacific Islands of Tahiti and the Marquesas before sailing to Hawaii .
ca. 1758 – Kamehameha, the Hawaiian chief who unified the Islands , is born.
1778 – In January, Capt. James Cook, commander of the HMS Resolution and the consort vessel HMS Discovery, lands on the island of the Big Island and “discovers” it for the Western world. He names the archipelago the Sandwich Islands after his patron, the Earl of Sandwich. In November, he returns to the Islands for the winter, anchoring at Kealakekua Bay o the Big Island .
1779 – In February, Cook is killed in a battle with Hawaii ‘s indigenous people at Kealakekua.
1785 – The isolation of the Islands ends as British, American, French, and Russian fur traders and New England whalers come to Hawaii . Tales spread of thousands of acres of sugarcane growing wild, and farmers come in droves from the United States and Europe .
1790 – Kamehameha begins his rise to power with a series of bloody battles.
1791 – Kamehameha builds Puukohola Heiau (temple) and dedicates it by sacrificing a rival chief he has killed.
1795 – Using Western arms, Kamehameha wins a decisive confrontation on Oahu . Except for the Big Island (which he tries to invade in 1796 and 1804), this completes his military conquest of the Islands .
1810 – The chief of the Big Island acknowledges Kamehameha’s rule, giving him suzerainty over the Big Island and Niihau . Kamehameha becomes known as King Kamehameha I, and he rules the unified Kingdom of Hawaii with an iron hand.
1819 – Kamehameha I died, and his oldest son, Liholiho, rules briefly as Kamehameha II, with Kaahumanu, Kamehameha I’s favorite wife, as co-executive. Kaahumanu persuades the new king to abandon old religious taboos, including those that forbade women to eat with men or to hold positions of power. The first whaling ships land at Lahaina on Maui .
1820 – By the time the first missionaries arrive from Boston , Hawaii ‘s social order is beginning to break down. First, Kaahumanu and then Kamehameha II defy kapu (taboo) without attracting divine retribution. Hawaiians, disillusioned with their own gods, are receptive to the ideas of Christianity. The influx of Western visitors also introduces to Hawaii Western diseases, liquor, and what some view as moral decay.
1824 – King Kamehameha II and his favorite wife die of measles during a visit to England . Honolulu missionaries give both royals a Christian burial outside Kawaiahao Church , inspiring many Hawaiians to convert to the Protestant faith. The king’s younger brother, Kauikeaouli, becomes King Kamehameha III, a wise and gentle sovereign who reigns for 30 years with Kaahumanu as regent.
1832 – Kaahumanu is baptized and dies a few months later.
1840 – The Wilkes Expedition, sponsored by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, pinpoints Pearl Harbor as a potential Naval Base.
1845 – Kamehameha III and the legislature move Hawaii ‘s seat of government from Lahaina, on Maui, to Honolulu , on Oahu .
1849 – Kamehameha III turns Hawaii into a constitutional monarchy, and the United States , France , and Great Britain recognize Hawaii as an independent country.
1850 – The Great Mahele, a land commission, reapportions the land to the crown, the government, chiefs, and commoners, introducing for the first time the Western principle of private ownership. Commoners are now able to buy and sell land, but this great division becomes the great dispossession: By the end of the 19th century, white men own 4 acres for every 1 owned by a native. Some of the commission’s distributions continue to be disputed to this day.
1852 – As Western diseases depopulate the Islands , a labor shortage occurs in the sugarcane fields. For the next nine decades, a steady stream of foreign labor pours into Hawaii , beginning with the Chinese. The Japanese begin arriving in 1868, followed by Filipinos, Koreans, Portuguese, and Puerto Ricans.
1872 – Kamehameha V, the last descendent of the king who unified the Islands , dies without heirs. A power struggle ensues between the adherents of David Kalakaua and William Lunalilo.
1873 – Lunalilo is elected Hawaii ‘s sixth king in January. The bachelor rules only 13 months before dying of tuberculosis.
1874 – Kalakaua vies for the throne with the Dowager Queen Emma, the half-Caucasian widow of Kamehameha IV. Kalakaua is elected by the Hawaii Legislature, against protests by supporters of Queen Emma. American and British marines are called in to restore order, and Kalakaua begins his reign as the “Merrie Monarch.”
1875 – The United States and Hawaii sign a treaty of reciprocity, assuring Hawaii a duty-free market for sugar in the United States .
1882 – King Kalakaua builds Iolani Palace , an Italian Renaissance-style structure, on the site of the previous royal palace.