A Portrait of the Korean American Experience
Timeline: Korean Immigration to Hawaii

January 13, 1903: The first ship to bring Korean immigrants carrying 56 men, 21 women, and 25 children (102 people) came to Hawaii, aboard the S.S. Gaelic.

1903-1905: The first wave of about 7,200 people, including 600 women, arrived before Japan halted emigration from Korea. About 2,000 went on to the mainland.

1910: Census for Territory of Hawaii shows 4,500 Koreans in Hawaii.

1910-1924: In the second wave, Hawaii workers brought in about 1,000 picture brides, ages 17 to 20, a generation younger than their husbands. Another 1,500 family members of earlier immigrants came on Japanese passports.

Picture Brides in Hawaii

In the late 19th century, Korean men traveled to Hawaii as cheap labor to work on the sugarcane plantations. These men had originally planned to leave plantation work and go back home after a few years when their labor contract was up.  However, many men did not make enough money to go back and had to make Hawaii their home, and part of that was getting married. In the beginning, the plantation owners preferred single men, but when the contract labor system was abolished, the owners thought that wives would make the men more likely to settle down and continue to work at the plantation. These Korean men sent pictures back to their home in Korea in order to find a bride – thus the term “picture bride.” Between 1907 and 1923, it is estimated that approximately 1,000 Korean picture brides arrived in Hawaii, thereby boosting the percentage of Korean women population by three-fold.

(Attribution: Population percentages of Korean men and women in Hawaii in the years 1910 and 1920. Numbers from Pau hana: Plantation life and labor in Hawaii 1835-1920 by Ronald T. Takaki.)