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  • Our Royal Guest: American Press Coverage of King Kalākaua’s Visit to the United States, 1874–1875
  • Douglas V. Askman (bio)


Less than a year after King Kalākaua ascended the throne of the Hawaiian Islands in February 1874, he departed his kingdom for a trip to the United States. When he arrived in San Francisco at the end of November, Kalākaua became the first reigning monarch to set foot on American soil. The sovereign remained in the United States for over two months, and his visit attracted enormous attention from the American media. It was the first of the king’s three trips to the United States during his reign.1

This article will analyze American press coverage of Kalākaua’s 1874–1875 travels through the United States. The reporting on the king’s visit was frequent, extensive, and generally extremely positive. Kalākaua’s time in the United States created a complimentary impression of the new monarch and served to promote Hawai‘i abroad. The praise given to the king by the press, at times effusive, is in partial contrast to the reaction of American newspapers to Kalākaua’s subsequent journey to the United States in 1881 during his world tour. While there was much complimentary coverage of the world tour in [End Page 131] the American media, it was more mixed than the enormously positive reporting that was seen in 1874 and 1875. Nevertheless, the king’s first trip to the United States as a monarch did engender some negative press coverage. Given the racist attitudes and stereotypes prevalent in the United States at the time, this is not surprising. Indeed, much of the unflattering treatment of Kalākaua in American newspapers was essentially the presentation of repugnant chauvinistic stereotypes, often only a few sentences in length, rather than serious reporting about the king’s visit. Overwhelmingly, Kalākaua created a favorable impression in the American press.2

San Francisco and the Journey to Washington

Although the Hawaiian monarch did not arrive in the United States until the end of November 1874, reporting on the king’s trip began significantly earlier. The National Republican, a Washington, DC, newspaper, related towards the end of September that information from Honolulu indicated that “Washington is soon to be honored with the presence of royalty.”3 Other papers remarked that Kalākaua would visit President Ulysses S Grant during his stay and even speculated that the king would travel on to Europe.4 On November 18, the day Kalākaua departed Honolulu for San Francisco on the American naval vessel USS Benicia, the Republican pointed out that the king had always shown an interest in the United States and was a man of “marked intelligence.”5

Several days before Kalākaua landed in California, the Gold Hill Daily News of Gold Hill, Nevada, reported on the upcoming royal visit. The paper pointed out that “doubtless great preparations will be made to receive, in a fitting manner, the first live King who ever honored the United States with his personal presence.” The Daily News also related that the king’s party would occupy a suite of rooms at the Grand Hotel in San Francisco and that two railway companies were providing a special train car to bring Kalākaua from the West Coast to Washington.6

On the night of November 28, 1874, the USS Benicia arrived in San Francisco with the king and his companions on board. Accompanying Kalākaua were his brother-in-law, John O. Dominis, Governor of O‘ahu and wife of the king’s sister Princess Lili‘uokalani, and John [End Page 132] M. Kapena, Governor of Maui. Salutes were fired from the military installations and government ships in the harbor to celebrate the king’s arrival. However, Kalākaua and his associates did not make an appearance until the following day.7 On November 29, the royal party came ashore, accompanied again by gun salutes as they departed the Benicia. When the group reached the dock, they were “greeted with cheers by a crowd of thousands.”8 The mayor of San Francisco, James Otis, and a...


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