The History of

Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard



Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard is a major symbol of America’s rise as an Indo-Pacific power following the Spanish American War at the end of the 19th Century.  This shipyard remains integral to America’s continued power and influence in the Region in the 21st Century.


To the Native Hawaiians, what is now known as Pearl Harbor was referred to as "Wai-Momi"--literally, the "Water of the Pearl" or "Pearl Water."  In the early 1800s, the navies of the world’s major powers (such as England, Russia, Germany, and France) explored the Pacific Ocean and established colonies and ports.  Many would vie for access to, or ownership of, Hawaii.  United States Navy ships began visiting Hawaii in 1814.


In 1876, after years of discussions and negotiations, the Kingdom of Hawaii signed the “Treaty of Reciprocity” with the United States.  Under the treaty, Hawaii would be able to sell its main crops, sugar and rice, in U.S. markets duty free, while the U.S. Navy would have exclusive access to Pearl Harbor as a coaling station, repair base, and anchorage.  The "coaling and repair base” would eventually become Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.


However, the U.S. Congress did not authorize funding to build the required facilities until the end of the century, when dredging began to allow Pearl Harbor to be used by modern Navy ships.  Congress passed an act officially creating Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, Territory of Hawaii, in May of 1908, and authorized nearly $3 million to help build it.


Since that day nearly 100 years ago, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard has seen the world's navies transition from sail to steam to nuclear power. Our workers have supported our nation in two world wars and a wide range of other military conflicts. They rebuilt the U.S. fleet after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and shortened that war by years through their ability to rapidly repair ships damaged in battle. They have supported our nation's defense in the Cold War’s "hot" conflicts of Korea and Vietnam, as well as during lesser-known but strategically important aspects of the decades-long confrontation with communist expansionism.  In recent years, Shipyarders have supported Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, and Enduring Freedom.  


From 1998 to 2004, all Hawaii-based maintenance activities merged into a full service-“Regional Maintenance Center”, providing “One Stop” maintenance and technical support for the Asia-Pacific Region.  Today, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard’s primary mission is to provide regional maintenance, at the depot and intermediate levels, to keep the surface ships and submarines of our nation's Navy "Fit to Fight."   We are the largest ship repair facility between the West Coast and Far East, and the only such public facility on U.S. soil.  We remain strategically located, roughly two weeks steam time from potential crisis areas in East Asia. 


As America faces the serious security challenges of the 21st Century, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard remains key to our Navy’s ability to win wars, deter aggression, preserve freedom of the seas, and promote peace and security.  And, as when we were established the beginning of the 20th Century, we remain key to our Nation’s continued power and influence in the Indo-Pacific Region.