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  • A Royal Traveler:American Press Coverage of King Kalākaua's 1881 Trip Around the World
  • Douglas V. Askman (bio)


In January 1881, King Kalākaua embarked on a trip around the world. When he returned to his kingdom some nine months later, in October 1881, he had become the first reigning monarch to circumnavigate the globe. The king's trip took him to the United States twice. At the start of his journey Kalākaua traveled from Hawai'i to San Francisco in order to board a connecting ship for Asia. After spending a short time in California, the king proceeded to Japan. From Japan, Kalākaua made his way through East, Southeast, and South Asia and then arrived in Egypt. From there, the king sailed to Europe. After visiting a number of European countries, Kalākaua crossed the Atlantic, returning to the United States, this time to the East Coast. The last phase of the king's trip took him across America, arriving again at San Francisco. From California, Kalākaua returned to Hawai'i.

The king's journey garnered media attention around the world, including in many newspapers throughout the United States. However, Kalākaua's 1881 visit was not his first trip to the United States as king. In 1874, Kalākaua had travelled to America shortly after ascending [End Page 69] the throne to negotiate a reciprocity treaty between his kingdom and the American government. This tour attracted much press coverage in the United States as it represented the first time in American history that a ruling monarch had visited.

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Figure 1.

Kalākaua wearing several of the decorations awarded to him from countries he visited on his world tour, No Date. AH.

The media attention that Kalākaua received during his American [End Page 70] visit at the start of his reign was repeated in 1881 during the king's world trip. Although American journalists gave special attention to Kalākaua's time in the United States, they covered the entirety of his journey. Two themes dominate American reporting of the king's trip. The first reflects the extent to which Kalākaua had achieved significant respect as an internationally recognized sovereign of an independent kingdom, demonstrating Hawai'i's status as a member of the family of nations. The second theme of American reporting of the king's trip, however, reflects the opposite, a lack of appreciation for Kalākaua as the head of state of a country that was equal to those in the West.

Trip to California

On January 20, 1881, Kalākaua left Honolulu bound for San Francisco, the first stop on his world tour. Even before the king's departure, the American press announced that Kalākaua was embarking on a long journey and would be visiting the United States. The Wichita City Eagle of Wichita, Kansas, reported on January 6 that the king would soon be leaving Hawai'i on a lengthy foreign trip and would mostly likely arrive in America in February.1 The True Northerner of Paw Paw, Michigan, added that the king had friends in Omaha, Nebraska, and intended to visit them.2 The Canton Advocate of Canton, South Dakota, in what was then the Dakota Territory, positively referred to Kalākaua as a friend of the United States.3

After a voyage of slightly more than a week, the king arrived in San Francisco. The Sacramento Daily Record-Union, published in California's capital, noted from press sources in San Francisco that "His Majesty Kalakaua, King of the Sandwich Islands" and his small entourage had reached the United States on January 29. The paper gave a brief summary of what it believed to be the Hawaiian monarch's itinerary. The Daily Record-Union explained that the king would stay in San Francisco briefly, then proceed to Asia, where he would examine the issue of immigration to Hawai'i. This would be followed by a journey to Europe and then to the East Coast of the United States, from where Kalākaua would make his way back to Hawai'i after crossing...


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