The Hawaiian Economy After Pearl Harbor

By: Alison

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Hawaiian economy wasn’t prepared to go to war. In the years following the attack, the economy changed in ways no one imagined.

Read on to learn more about the Hawaiian economy during World War II and see how the attacks on Pearl Harbor changed the economy and ultimately led to a stronger economy for all.

Before the attacks

It’s important to remember that Hawaii at this time was still a U.S. territory, not a state. The Hawaiian economy had been hit particularly hard by the Great Depression, and in 1941, it was still recovering.

Sugar and pineapples were the islands’ main exports at the time, and the need for workers brought immigrants from all over the world to Hawaii. When the Great Depression hit, plantations couldn’t afford to pay workers, and suddenly there was a large number of workers without jobs.

When Japan started to build up its military, the U.S. responded similarly. Hawaii welcomed an influx of military personnel who came to Pearl Harbor work on the ships.

During the war

The U.S. declared war on Japan the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked. Hawaii immediately came under martial law, and even more military members came to the island. The war interrupted regular commercial shipping, and all government operations were turned over to the military.

Labor union activity was suspended, which was a setback for the sugar and pineapple plantation workers. Under martial law, wages were frozen, and since unions were not able to argue for higher wages, plantation workers found themselves in difficult circumstances


During this time, the Hawaiian economy experienced significant economic growth. Because so many more military members were coming to Hawaii, more houses, restaurants, and shops were needed to keep up with the new demand. As a result, construction projects multiplied and more businesses opened.

In 1943, the U.S. lifted control over the National Labor Relations Board, and unions were once again able to organize. Over the next two years, workers at 34 of Hawaii’s 35 plantations had unionized, but that didn’t necessarily lead to growth on the plantations. Over the next few decades, those plantations would decline and eventually close down. Today, only a handful of plantations still operate in Hawaii.

After the war

When World War II ended in August 1945, many members of the military returned home to their families, causing new difficulties for the Hawaiian economy. Fewer new homes were needed, and there weren’t as many people going out shopping or dining.

Still, the ever-resilient people of Hawaii banded together and rebuilt their economy. In 1946, tourism became one of the best sources of income for the islands. The Hawaii Visitors Bureau launched a number of campaigns to bring more people to the islands, and over the next few years, their efforts paid off.

Pearl Harbor became one of the island’s biggest attractions, bringing thousands of visitors to the island each year. Now, tourists from around the U.S. and the world come to pay their respects to the crewmen who gave their lives that day.


The Hawaiian economy changed greatly over the course of the war, but because the islanders came together during this hard period, their beautiful islands recovered and its economy prospered.

Tell us, why are you visiting Hawaii? What brings you to this tropical paradise?

Recommended Articles