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What Is the History of Hawaii's State Flag?

Christina Edwards
Christina Edwards

In the beginning of the 18th century, Hawaii was technically a kingdom. The king who ruled over the islands at this time flew a British flag because the area was a protectorate of Great Britain. During the war of 1812, an American flag was flown, but was removed when the British objected. Some believe that the king then had a hybrid flag created, so as not to offend either nation. Others believe that Hawaii's state flag had more of a British influence.

For years, explorers tried to find a passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This is also known as the Northwest Passage. While on this quest in 1778, British explorer and navigator James Cook discovered a string of islands that would later become known as Hawaii.

Hawaii's flag dates back to the early 1800s, long before it joined the United States in 1959.
Hawaii's flag dates back to the early 1800s, long before it joined the United States in 1959.

Before 1795, these islands were ruled by a number of chiefs. Around this time, one such chief began to conquer the other tribes and islands. With the help of British guns and ammunition, Kamehameha managed to united all of the Hawaiian islands into one kingdom under his rule.

King Kamehameha had a number of British advisers. His islands were also protected by the British government, although they were considered a separate nation. As a sign of friendship and alliance, King Kamehameha often flew a British flag.

By the War of 1812, the United States had discovered the Hawaiian islands as well. It was around this time that King Kamehameha flew the American flag outside his home. His British advisers, however, were offended, and they strongly urged him to remove it.

In 1816, King Kamehameha decided to have his own flag created. The resulting Hawaiian flag strongly resembles a mixture of the two nations' flags. A union flag is in the upper left hand corner, next to the flag mast. Eight red, white, and blue alternating horizontal stripes on it make up the rest of Hawaii's state flag. Each of these stripes on Hawaii's state flag represents one of the eight islands of Hawaii.

A couple theories exist as to why the flag was made this way. Some believe that King Kamehameha had the flag designed like this so he did not offend either of the larger nations. On the other hand, this flag also strongly resembles the British East India Company flag, which has a small union flag in the corner and alternating red and white stripes. Since King Kamehameha had a number of British advisers, some believe that Hawaii's state flag was modeled after this flag instead.

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Discussion Comments


@matthewc23 - That is absolutely true, but I do not think that that was the reason for choosing such a flag.

The nation of Hawaii did not come under United State control until nearly one hundred years after the rule of King Kamehameha. He was the one that began to modernize Hawaii and make it known to the outside world.

I actually find this flag to be rather genius as it shows that he was willing to compromise and did not want to make anyone mad and chose to be friends with both.

I am sure he had economic ideas in mind, but it also showed that he relied heavily on these two nations to help modernize the nation of Hawaii to eventually become the great state that it is today.

King Kamehameha would be proud of Hawaii today and be proud that they still do not sacrifice but rather celebrate their culture while still keeping friendly relations with the best of the world. I bet he would also be happy to see that his design of the flag is still in use today.


@jcraig - I am betting you are correct as the original thirteen colonies created the designs of their flags in order to separate themselves from the previous monarchy that was in power.

This however does show how different Hawaii is from other states. Hawaii was once it's own kingdom and can claim to have at one time been its own independent nation. I believe Texas is the only other state that can claim this as it was a its own independent country for only a few years after gaining their independence from mexico.

Hawaii, is definitely a very interesting state and shows that it is so through their state flag, which gives us a reminder that as Americans we were once ruled by a monarch.


@JimmyT - You could be right, but that fact of the matter is, is that it is something that will probably never be known.

King Kamehameha did things as he saw fit and another possibility could have been that he simply saw both nations as what he wanted Hawaii to become eventually and incorporated both of the symbols into the Hawaii flag.

I do find this to be very interesting considering that the flag of the state of Hawaii has not changed and was in fact the flag when it was under the rule of a monarchy as its own independent nation. I bet there are very few states that can make that claim.


I have to be totally honest and say that the true reason why King Kamehameha chose such a flag may never become known as he was such an authoritarian king that although having advisers was independent and made decisions as he felt.

I would think that since his decisions were based on the best interest of Hawaii, he may have simply saw the situation between the Americans and the English as a case of having to keep neutrality and make sure that they kept both as trading partners.

King Kamehameha was a very smart man and a good leader and sought to do what was best for his kingdom. Losing either as trading partners would have struck a blow to the nation of Hawaii that would have made it incredibly difficult to recover. By keeping friendly relations with both, maybe he could have been able to keep them both as trading partners and experience the best of the two despite them both warring with each other.

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    • Hawaii's flag dates back to the early 1800s, long before it joined the United States in 1959.
      By: mmmg
      Hawaii's flag dates back to the early 1800s, long before it joined the United States in 1959.