The Ukulele Craze on the U.S. Mainland

Would you believe the ukulele was popular on the Mainland United States? It was in 1915 from San Francisco to New York. Hawaiian records became a hit, with record houses pumping out songs including “Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula,” “Pretty Baby,” and “She Sang Aloha to Me.” Music stores in Chicago and New York were advertising Hawaiian music and instruments “more than any other sort.”

The craze all started at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915. Thousands listened to George Awai and the Royal Hawaiian Quartet strum the Hawaiian ukulele and guitar at the Hawaiian exhibit. Afterwards, songwriters composed Hawaiian-themed music, people from Hawaii established ukulele schools on the mainland, and now everyone wanted to learn to play the ukulele.

A business man in Berkeley said almost all the young people there seemed to own an ukulele that summer. Edward W. Hulse said children could be heard strumming their ukulele and singing every evening at Claremont Park.

The ukulele even displaced guitars and banjos at Atlanta, Georgia. Windows of music stores displayed ukulele and instruction books. College glee clubs that used to play the guitar and banjo played the ukulele instead.

Ukulele manufacturers in Hawaii produced thousands of ukulele, but were mostly small shops with two or three makers set up to meet only local demands. Soon demand exceeded supply, and Mainland manufacturers entered the market and made the majority of ukulele.

People debated whether ukulele made in Hawaii were better than those made on the Mainland. Sherman Clay & Company, an instrument manufacturer on the Mainland, argued manufacturers in Hawaii should produce ukulele by using “more modern methods with due regard to tone and finish.” If not, ukulele made in Hawaii would be “doomed to retirement,” unlike the more cheaply-made ukulele from the Mainland. However, Hawaii’s promotion committee for tourism encouraged mainland dealers to sell only ukulele made in Hawaii and marketed them as connected to the moonlight nights and luau and the “Paradise of the Pacific.”

Paper ukulele were also said to be made on the Mainland, but Manuel Nunes couldn’t find any when he and his son visited there. However, Nunes, one of the ukulele’s inventors, claimed music stores sold Mainland ukulele as Hawaii ukulele and said, “It doesn’t make any difference what they make the ukulele out of on the mainland. It is the Hawaiian workmanship that counts.”

– Alice Kim

See more ukulele ads in HDNP’s photo collection.

Articles from Chronicling America

“M. Nunes: Inventor of the Ukulele”
Pacific commercial advertiser, December 29, 1909, SECOND SECTION, Page 11

“The Vogue of the Ukulele”
Honolulu star-bulletin, December 9, 1914, 2:00 Edition, Page 7

“Ukulele Craze Sweeping from Coast to Coast”
Honolulu star-bulletin, September 6, 1915, 2:30 Edition, Image 1

“Eight Strings on New Ukulele an Improvement”
Honolulu star-bulletin, June 16, 1915, 2:30 Edition, Page 9

“We Are All to Learn to Play on the Ukulele This Winter According to Mrs. Vernon Castle”
The Washington times, December 8, 1915, Page 10

“‘Ukulele’ Puts Guitar and the Old-Fashioned Banjo Out of Business”
The intelligencer, April 23, 1916, Page 7

The Ukulele Poem
The Garden Island, May 2, 1916, Page 4

“Ukulele Most Popular Instrument Upon Coast”
Honolulu star-bulletin, June 22, 1916, Page 5

“Hawaiian Ukulele Menaced by Better Made Instruments”
The Hawaiian gazette, August 4, 1916, Page 2

“Ukulele Factory Is Hailed Cure for Complaints from Mainland: Local Musicians as well as Makers and Dealers Wish Industry to Thrive”
Honolulu star-bulletin, August 4, 1916, 3:30 Edition, Page 5

“Local Makers of Ukuleles Can’t Fill All Orders”
The Hawaiian gazette, August 11, 1916, Page 4

“Ukulele Given Recognition in U.S. Officialdom”
Honolulu star-bulletin, October 13, 1916, 2:30 Edition, Page 4

“Popularity of Ukulele Keeping Hawaiians Busy”
The Greenville journal, October 19, 1916, Image 3

“Ukulele Industry Rapidly Attaining Big Proportions: Southern California Dealer Has ‘Ukulele Week’; Attracts Philadelphia’s Attention”
Honolulu star-bulletin, October 25, 1916, 2:30 Edition, Page 9

“The Ukulele Fad”
Bisbee daily review, November 16, 1916, Page 4

“Ubiquitous Ukulele Is Responsible for Philadelphia Peeve”
Honolulu star-bulletin, January 19, 1917, 2:30 Edition, SPORTS SECTION, Page 9

“Real Music in Ukuleles, Say Fair Teachers: Honolulu Girls Establish Studio…”
Honolulu star-bulletin, February 9, 1917, SPORTS SECTION, Page 9

“Imitations of Ukulele Common Upon Mainland: Manuel Nunes Find Instruments Made of Red Cedar…”
Honolulu star-bulletin., May 10, 1917, 2:30 Edition, Image 1

“Ukulele A Musical Drum: Composer Says Hawaiian Instrument Has Place in Symphonies”
Vermont phœnix, March 1, 1918, Page 6

“Ukulele Craze Seemingly Is Dead in City”
The Oklahoma City times, September 12, 1919, Page 11


3 Comments on “The Ukulele Craze on the U.S. Mainland”

  1. […] are from U.S. Mainland newspapers. Ukulele was once a fad on the Mainland, so I searched “ukulele” in newspapers from all states but […]

  2. […] Read more about it in “The Ukulele Craze on the U.S. Mainland.” […]

  3. […] the early 1900s, Hawaiian music dazzled the U.S. mainland. Record houses pumped out songs, including “Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula,” “Pretty Baby,” and […]

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