Mark Twain in Hawaii

We know Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But many may not know that Mark Twain, at thirty-one years old, stayed in Hawaii for four months in 1866.

Originally known as Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Twain went to Hawaii as a traveling reporter for the Sacramento Union newspaper. Seeking fame, he wrote twenty-five letters for the newspaper, in which he described Hawaii. Twain described his assignment:

“The proprietors of the Sacramento Union, a great and influential daily journal, sent me to the Sandwich Islands to write four letters a month at twenty dollars a piece. I was there for four or five months, and returned to find myself about the best known man on the Pacific Coast.”

The letters became popular with readers and made Twain famous.

In Hawaii, Twain surfed and got wiped out in Waikiki Beach, tried to swim with naked Native Hawaiian women (who, upon seeing him, fled), rode horseback to the summit of Kilauea, and watched the volcano erupt.

Twain asked publisher Henry M. Whitney for a job at The Pacific Commercial Advertiser and introduced himself as a correspondent of the Sacramento Union. However, Whitney already employed a skilled writer, but became Twain’s closest friend in Hawaii. Twain made the PCA his headquarters, stayed at Whitney’s home, and often got cigars from him. After Twain left Hawaii, these friends kept in touch through letters.

In newswriting, Whitney’s original focus was to “get the stories first.” However, as Twain’s popularity grew, Whitney eventually adopted Twain’s satiric humorist style in his writing.

Twenty-nine years later, bankrupt through failed investments, Twain lectured around the world for money. In August 1895, over 300 tickets to his lecture in Honolulu were sold quickly.

Hawaii newspapers raved about Twain. The Independent called his lecture as “one chance in a lifetime to see and hear the greatest humorist of the century.”

Unfortunately, possibly due to the cholera scare in Honolulu, Twain did not come to Hawaii after all. Thus, the people who bought tickets received a refund.

– Alice Kim

Articles from Chronicling America

“Mark Twain on the Platform”

The evening telegraph, November 20, 1869, FIFTH EDITION, Page 6


“Mark Twain: His Lecture in London–His Own Introduction of Himself”
The Hawaiian gazette, December 24, 1873, Image 4

Local and General News”
The Independent, August 17, 1895, Image 5

Mark Twain’s Lecture
The Independent, August 17, 1895, Image 3

“Has No Equal as a Humorist: Mark Twain Name a Household Word in Every Land”
The Pacific commercial advertiser., August 21, 1895, Image 1

“Sam, Langhorne Clemens: ‘Mark Twains’ Second Visit to Honolulu”
Evening bulletin, August 22, 1895, Image 1

“Mark Twain’s New Book” (Twain wrote about his time in Hawaii)
The San Francisco call, October 24, 1897, Page 23

“Incidents in the Life of Mark Twain”
Barton County democrat, July 11, 1902, Image 6

“‘Mark Twain’ Celebrated Yankee Humorist, Who Made Fun of These Pacific Islands, Is Seriously Ill”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, May 24, 1903, Page 2

“Town Talk By The Man About Town”
The Hawaiian star, April 14, 1906, Page 6

“Mark Twain Accepts Hawaii’s Offer of Gift: Koa Mantel in His Billiard Room Will Be Hawaii’s Expression of Appreciation for the Great Writer”
The Hawaiian gazette, April 17, 1908, Image 1

“Mark Twain’s Latest Tribute to Hawaii: ‘Loveliest Fleet of Islands That Lie Anchored in Any Ocean”
The Pacific commercial advertiser, December 20, 1908, Image 1
The Hawaiian gazette, December 22, 1908, Page 3


One Comment on “Mark Twain in Hawaii”

  1. […] Read more about it in “Mark Twain in Hawaii.” […]

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