The land area of these islands are the emerged tops of a chain of
volcanic mountains that form eight major islands and 124 islets,
stretching in a 1,500-mile crescent from Kure Island in the west to the
island of Hawaii in the east, encompassing an area of 6,459 square miles
(16,729 square km).
The eight major islands at the eastern end of the chain are, from west
to east, Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and the
Big Island of Hawaii.
Hawaii lies just below the tropic of Cancer, and its mild tropical
climate is considered by many people to be the world's ideal. Although
often humid by U.S. mainland standards, temperatures are conditioned by
the northeast trade winds, which prevail most of the year. Blowing for
many miles over the open Pacific, the trade winds pass along the great
reservoir's stabilizing influence, to make living on the islands
The average temperature in downtown Honolulu is 72 F (22 C) in the
coolest month and 78 F (26 C) in the warmest, with extremes from 57 F
(14 C) to 88 F (31 C) having been recorded there. The average water
temperatures off Waikiki Beach, near Honolulu, range from 75 F (24 C) in
late February to 79 F (26 C) in late September.
The original Hawaiians were a brown-skinned people of large stature,
highly skilled in fishing and farming, who adhered to an extremely rigid
and strict system of laws that was set down by their chiefs and their
priests. They worshiped and feared a group of gods not unlike, in
character and power, the ancient Greek deities of Mount Olympus.
The first recorded contact between the Hawaiians and
Europeans took place in 1778, when Captain James Cook came upon the
During the ensuing four decades the influence of European and American
explorers, adventurers, trappers, and whalers stopping for fresh
supplies at Hawaiian islands was to have a profound effect
Economy Tourism is Hawaii's largest industry.
Expansion has been particularly rapid since World War II, and the growth
has resulted in part from continued improvements in transportation and
the stimulus provided by the state government and local businesses. The
majority of visitors come from the U.S. mainland, Canada, Australia, and
countries of the Far East, particularly Japan. The racial and religious
makeup of Hawaii has undergone quite dramatic change since that time.
Thousands of settlers from the Pacific Basin (primarily from Japan, the
Philippines, and China) as well as immigrants from Europe and from the
U.S. mainland carried their own customs, languages, and religions into
the Hawaiian way of life. The largest religious groups are Roman
Catholics and Protestants. There are, however, small but important
groups of Buddhists and of adherents of other Asian religions.
Hawaiian activities of national and international importance include
research and development in oceanography, geophysics, astronomy,
satellite communications, and biomedicine. Hawaii ranks relatively low
among the states in terms of personal income, farm products sold, value
of manufacturing shipments, retail sales, and bank deposits.