History of Ford Island

The fascinating history of Ford Island, named Moku’ume’ume by ancient Hawaiians, is not well known.

Located in the middle of Pearl Harbor on O’ahu and surrounded by water, Ford Island measures about 1.4 miles long and 0.70 miles wide. Moku’ume’ume means “Island of Attraction,” named after a game the ancient Hawaiians played gathering commoners and chiefs around a bonfire on the island, a game that could be described as mate swapping—it is important to note that it was only a game, and when it was all over, the players returned to their respective mates!

An influential Spaniard, Francisco de Paula Marin, took possession of the island around 1810 where he raised sheep, goats, hogs and rabbits to supply his ship provisioning business.

During the times of unsettled land ownership in the early Hawaiian Kingdom, ownership of the island passed to a trust formed for the son of prominent Honolulu physician, Dr. Seth Porter Ford. The Ford family took possession of theIslandaround 1885. In 1891 the island was sold to the John Li estate, an estate with vast landholdings in and around Pearl Harbor.

The Oahu Sugar Company leased Ford Island in 1899. They planted sugarcane on the island and built docks to facilitate the transfer of the sugar cane harvest by barge on the way to the sugar mill atWaipahu. In 1916 a couple of small parcels of land on the island were purchased from the Li estate by the War Department.

Ford Island as seen from space

Then, in 1917, the O’ahu Sugar Company surrendered its leasehold at which time the U.S. War Department completed the purchase of Ford Island to be used by both the U.S. Army and the Navy. The first contingent of Army personnel arrived in September of 1918. A year later the new station was officially designated “Luke Field,” named after an Army fighter pilot killed in action during World War I, and Luke Field developed into a sizeable base.

By 1937 the Army began to move its air force contingent across the bay to Hickam Field and by 1940 the move was completed, the Army presence on Ford Island had ended and the island became the exclusive property of the U.S.Navy.

Ford Island played an important role in the attack on Pearl Harbor because the bulk of the U.S. Pacific Fleet was anchored near the island.

Residents of Ford Island were unaware in the early morning of December 7, 1941 that they were right in the center of the Japanese attack onPearl Harbor, as they did not think much of the low flying planes over their homes until they recognize the rising sun painted on the planes. During the attacks, 33 of the 70 aircraft on Ford Island were destroyed.

The monuments to the USS Utah and USS Oklahoma, the Pacific Aviation Museum, are all on Ford Island as well as the USS Missouri, which was the site of the Japanese Surrender in World War II. Transportation to and from Ford Island was by ferry boat until 1998 when the Admiral Clarey Bridge was opened. The General Population was unable to visit the island without a military ID or being invited by a resident.

Admiral Clarey Bridge to Ford Island

Visiting Pearl Harbor and Ford Island is taking a walk through history, honoring the courageous soldiers that fought and perished that fateful Sunday morning in December of 1941.

(Acknowledgment: Some of the history in this article was obtained from an article by William H. Dorrance, published in the Historic Hawaii Foundation News, Dec. 1991 as well of other articles in the HHF website).

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