Travelers to Hawaiʻi

Tourism comprises nearly a quarter of Hawai‘i’s economy – creating jobs, generating billions in visitor spending, and contributing billions in state revenue. After a pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, some residents in the industry are seeking sustainable tourism – balancing the needs of local communities, natural environments, and cultural resources.

Sailing ships brought the first U.S. tourists to the Islands in the 1860s. Many adventure travelers focused on Kīlauea volcano. In 1865 visitors could lodge at the Volcano House, Hawaiʻi Island’s first hotel, near the rim of Halemaʻumaʻu crater. Writers came too. Employed by The Sacramento Union, Mark Twain visited Hawaiʻi Island in 1866. Isabella Bird stayed in 1873 and Robert Louis Stevenson in April 1889.

In the 20th century, steamships brought more tourists. The Matson Company fleet carried travelers and freight. It took 4 1/2 days to sail from San Francisco to the Islands. In port, residents welcomed visitors with streamers and lei. Wealthy tourists stayed for months and brought trunks, servants, and touring cars. Islanders entertained visitors with personal tours, floral parades, and hula.

The first commercial passenger aircraft service to the Hawaiian Islands began in 1936, with a once-weekly flight from San Francisco. The flight took 21 hours, 33 minutes. Pan American Airways introduced the larger Boeing 314, with a lounge and sleeping berths, in 1939. Jet airliners were introduced in the 1960s.

1941 set a record for Island travelers, but when World War II began in December it brought an abrupt end to leisure travel. After the war, music, movies and television shows such as “Hawaii 5-0” assured that the state remained a popular American vacation destination.

These photographs represent some of the Hawaiʻi Island travel-related images preserved by the Lyman Museum. The Archives is open for research by appointment. Learn more at

Click on any photo to read the caption and scroll through the gallery.