The Great Pacific Cable

By Helen G. Chapin, Courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society


Photo Credit: "" Website
Photo Credit: "" Website

Annexation in 1898 yoked Hawai‘i to the United States politically and economically. The Pacific Cable in 1903 may have had as great an influence, however. The official word from Washington on annexation took a week to arrive by steamship. The cable was the technological event that connected Hawai‘i to the United States and the rest of the world by seconds and destroyed the watery isolation of the Islands forever.

Interestingly, while annexation had many opponents in the nineteenth century, almost no one objected to a cable. It was made possible by the invention of the telegraph in 1844, which meant that for the first time in human life information was detached from any solid commodity and that messages could travel faster than the messenger.

In 1866, an Atlantic cable connected the United States and Europe. Both King Kalakaua and Queen Lili‘uokalani proposed a Pacific cable. Radio wireless finally connected the Hawaiian chain in November of 1900. Then on December 28, 1902, the cableship Silverton linked the cable from Sans Souci beach at Waikiki to San Francisco. The first message was telegraphed on New Year’s Day 1903, to President Theodore Roosevelt in Washington. News was now instantly available from Washington and Berlin, Tangiers, and Caracas.

After November 1951, newer communications methods made the cable unnecessary. Today it lies abandoned on the bottom of the Pacific, but it served a primary communications function for almost fifty years.