This page last updated: 18 May 2005


::: Honolulu Post Office and Postmasters :::

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Post Office

Honolulu's colonnaded "New Post Office" served the community from 1871 to 1922. This building, still standing on the corner of Bethel and Merchant Streets, occupies the site where The Polynesian Office stood before that building was razed in 1869. From 1850 to 1854, the post office was located in The Polynesian Office. Immediately adjacent to the New Post Office, on the right and slightly set back from Merchant Street, Honolulu Hale can be seen with its covered balcony. Honolulu Hale was the second location of the post office, serving as such from 1854 to 1871.

During the fifty years of Hawaii's independent postal system from 1850 to 1900, the post office occupied three premises: a room in The Polynesian Office (1850-1854); rooms in Honolulu Hale, situated next door to The Polynesian Office (1854-1871); and about half of the ground floor in the "New Post Office" (1871-1922), situated on the former site of The Polynesian Office. Thus, postal affairs were always concentrated at or next door to the same place at the corner of Merchant and Bethel Streets in Honolulu, about one block mauka (meaning "toward the mountains") of the harbor and on the mauka side of Merchant Street.

Eleven men were appointed to oversee affairs in the Honolulu Post Office and throughout the kingdom. At first, the title was Postmaster of Honolulu. In 1859, the title was changed to Postmaster General of Hawaii. The office was never of cabinet rank and the PMG always reported to the Minister of Interior. One of the eleven Postmasters, Henry Whitney, served twice with a twenty-seven year interval between his two appointments. The longest serving Postmaster was Arthur P. Brickwood, whose tenure ran from 1865 to 1881. One Postmaster General, David Kalakaua, was elected King nine years after leaving the post office.

The Polynesian Office, Post Office Premises 1850-1854

When the Honolulu post office opened on December 21, 1850, it occupied space in the Government Printing Office at the corner of Merchant and Bethel Streets about a block inland from the harbor. The building was better known as the office of The Polynesian, Hawaii's principal weekly newspaper, published by the government. The building was erected in 1847. Operations of the government press, including printing facilities for The Polynesian, moved there in 1848 under the direction of Mr. C. E. Hitchcock. E. O. Hall was appointed director of the GPO in 1849. In addition to printing The Polynesian, the GPO printed all of Hawaii's statutes and other official documents.

Emmert Plate 4

Image of The Polynesian office from a lithograph plate by Paul Emmert done in 1853. Part of the upstairs was turned into the Honolulu Post Office in December, 1851. The building was torn down in 1869.

Mail service was connected with The Polynesian Office at least by November 2, 1850, when The Polynesian began keeping a letter bag where people could deposit letters. The Polynesian letter bag was the first documented official responsibility for handling mail to or from Hawaii. Letters placed in The Polynesian letter bag were handled by employees of the Government Printing Office and placed on board vessels headed for appropriate ports. A postmark was devised from loose printer's type and letters left in The Polynesian letter bag were marked with the postmark known among collectors as the "Honolulu Straightline".

Pursuant to a royal decree dated December 20, 1850 and published December 21, the Honolulu Post Office was established. A part of the upstairs in The Polynesian Office was sectioned off to make a room for the post office. Legislation dated June 8, 1851 and published September 13, ratified the royal decree establishing the post office.

Hono. 21 Dec 50 cover

A letter posted December 21, 1850, the opening day of the Honolulu Post Office. The letter is postmarked with Honolulu's first postmark, the straightline. While mail was being handled by The Polynesian from November 2, 1850 to December 21, 1850, the same straightline device was used to postmark letters but the ink color was blue. On December 21, 1850, the ink color was changed to black.

Henry Whitney was born in Hawaii of missionary parents and went to New England for education and training. He returned in 1849 to work in the Government Printing Office. While in New England, he became profoundly deaf and never regained his hearing. The royal decree of December 20, 1850, officially appointed him Postmaster of Honolulu. Most likely, he was the employee who took responsibility for The Polynesian letter bag.

In his post office room at The Polynesian Office, Whitney designed Hawaii's famous Missionary stamps. They were printed on the GPO's press in the adjoining room and issued on October 1, 1851. Also in this office in mid-1853, Whitney issued Hawaii's 5 and 13 engraved stamps, printed in Boston, portraying King Kamehameha III.

Whitney yearned to leave public office and open a stationery and book store. Along the mauka side (meaning on the mountain side, as opposed to the makai, or waterfront side) of Merchant Street, the next building waikiki (meaning easterly, as opposed to ewa or westerly) of The Polynesian Office was Honolulu Hale, occupied by government ministries. Honolulu Hale was built in 1843 (it was finally razed in 1917). In 1853, the government ministries moved to new quarters and the two-story Honolulu Hale was empty. Whitney saw this premises as a good location for his store and tried to buy it from the Crown. His proposal was rejected and he tendered his resignation as postmaster. Whitney was convinced to stay in the job with an increased salary and permission to operate the store aside from his government office. The Crown agreed to lease Honolulu Hale to Whitney and Whitney agreed to pay rent for both the post office and his store.

Honolulu Hale, Post Office Premises from 1854 to 1871

Whitney made alterations in Honolulu Hale to accommodate his store, fitted up half of the ground floor for a post office and then moved the post office out of The Polynesian building in March, 1854. The other half of the ground floor was Whitney's store. The post office stayed at Honolulu Hale seventeen years. Facing Honolulu Hale on the makai side of Merchant Street was the entrance to Kaahumanu Street, a block long street running from Merchant Street to the waterfront. Looking down Kaahumanu Street, postal workers in Honolulu Hale had a clear view of the harbor and a straight run for the mail wagons. Danger faced the Honolulu Hale post office in 1856 when a fire in Honolulu threatened to burn through the area where Honolulu Hale was located. All of the records were moved to a safe location until the danger passed.

Honolulu Hale - Emmert

Honolulu Hale, as sketched by Paul Emmert in 1853, housed various government ministries until 1853. From 1854 to 1871, the building housed the Honolulu Post Office. Honolulu Hale was built in 1843 and razed in 1917.

Honolulu Hale

Photograph of Honolulu Hale after it was remodeled The columns of the New Post Office can be seen on the left.

Whitney decided to publish a private weekly newspaper he named The Pacific Commercial Advertiser. In June, 1856, Whitney set up his editorial office in the second floor of Honolulu Hale. He built a press office on the empty lot adjoining Honolulu Hale on the waikiki side. The Advertiser became Hawaii's principal independent (privately published) newspaper.

Citing a conflict of interest between his private newspaper and his government position, Whitney left his job as Postmaster of Honolulu on July 1, 1856. Whitney expanded the duties of the office to include responsibility for all mail service throughout the kingdom. During Whitney's tenure, post offices and overland carrier routes were established on all the islands. After his resignation in 1856, Whitney continued to have a keen interest in postal affairs. In 1883, he would return to the post office as Postmaster General.

Honolulu Hale was home to four postmasters after Whitney:

Joseph Jackson, Honolulu Postmaster, 1856 to 1859; Postmaster General, 1859

Joseph Jackson succeeded Whitney as Postmaster of Honolulu. While Jackson was postmaster, the title was upgraded to Postmaster General of Hawaii. During his tenure, Hawaii introduced a compulsory rate on all local and inter-island mail. Jackson supervised preparations in the post office for handling all inter-island and local mail in 1859 and arranged for printing Hawaii's famous Numeral stamps. When Hawaii's supply of 5 Kamehameha III stamps was near exhaustion in 1857, he decided to surcharge Hawaii's 13 stamps with a manuscript "5", only the second time anyone in the world used a manuscript surcharge to create a new stamp denomination. Jackson also won money from the legislature to keep the overland routes operating when they were threatened by severe budgets after the boom of the California Gold Rush faded.

Alvah Clark, Postmaster General, 1859-1863

On August 14, 1859, Jackson died and was succeeded by his clerk, Alvah K. Clark, on August 27. Whitney had a good relationship with Jackson but frequently disagreed with Clark and their words at times seem disrespectful as Clark seemed to align himself against the missionary faction championed by Whitney. Clark continued issuing Numerals but switched printing from Whitney's press to The Polynesian press. In 1860, Clark contracted with a printer in Boston to procure 2 lithographed stamps portraying King Kamehameha IV.

David Kalakaua, Postmaster General, 1863-1865

Clark resigned June 30, 1863, and moved to New York City. He was replaced by the first Hawaiian chief to hold the office, David Kalakaua. Kalakaua accepted the suggestion of his clerk, William G. Irwin, to procure new perforated engraved stamps as a way to upgrade the image of Hawaii's postage stamps. Kalakaua ordered the first engraved stamps from the National Bank Note Company in late 1863. From that point until Hawaii's postal affairs came under the jurisdiction of the United States Post Office Department, Hawaii obtained all of its postage stamps, revenue stamps, postal stationery and postal cards from the NBNCo or its successor, the American Bank Note Company. The free franking privilege came to an end during Kalakaua's tenure.

Arthur P. Brickwood, Postmaster General, 1865-1881

Kalakaua resigned March 18, 1865, to accept another office. Capt. Arthur P. Brickwood was appointed PMG the same day. Brickwood lasted in office until 1881 and oversaw the next move of the post office.

New Honolulu Post Office, 1871-1922

Construction of a new post office building began in 1869 by razing the old Polynesian Office on the corner of Merchant and Bethel. In its place, a colonnaded and roomy building was designed and constructed for, among other things, a post office. The new building opened March 8, 1871, and the post office moved in on March 21. The post office remained at that location until March 21, 1922. The building still stands at the corner of Merchant and Bethel Streets.

The Government Printing Office (The Polynesian had been discontinued in 1864, but was replaced by a new government newspaper, the Gazette) occupied the upper floor and part of the ground floor. Half of the ground floor was set aside for the post office. The rest of the ground floor was used by the Marshal and other police functions. A threat of fire in 1886 forced removal of the post office records and stamps to a safe location. Also in 1886 a major renovation of the post office was done.

Including Brickwood, the New Post Office was home to eight Postmasters General through June 13, 1900, the last day of Hawaii's independent postal service.

Brickwood's long tenure witnessed many changes in the postal system in addition to opening an expanded new facility for Honolulu. Improvements were made in inter-island routes and overland routes, post offices were extended to new towns, postal capacity was expanded when demand burgeoned during the sugar boom starting in 1876, postal conventions were arranged with various countries, including one with the United States that simplified postal rates for most of Hawaii's foreign mail, postmarking devices were introduced at major towns, handling of native Hawaiian mail was improved by adding special clerks and a special window, to name some of the changes. Brickwood was also responsible for several stamp issues, specifically the 5 Numerals and the 1871 and 1875 engraved stamps.

Brickwood's ultimate resignation in 1881 often is attributed to his resistance to Hawaiian membership in the Universal Postal Union, but age and infirmity must have contributed to his resignation at least as much. In 1881, Brickwood was 74 years old and in failing health. He died in November, 1883, after an illness of two years. At any rate, while David Kalakaua (the former Postmaster General was elected King in 1874) was on a world wide tour he left his sister Princess Liliuokalani in charge of the kingdom. Liliuokalani advocated membership in the UPU. She received Brickwood's resignation on July 20, 1881, and appointed John Kapena to arrange Hawaii's entry to the UPU.

Post Office, Honolulu

Another view of the New Post Office with Honolulu Hale visible on the right.

New Post Office

A view looking up Merchant Street from Bethel Street, with the colonnaded Post Office building on the left.

John Kapena, Postmaster General 1881-1883

Kapena left Hawaii on a diplomatic tour almost immediately after being appointed PMG. He left the post office in charge of J. B. Peterson during his absence and Peterson oversaw the details of joining the UPU. Hawaii was admitted to the Universal Postal Union, effective January 1, 1882.

Henry Whitney, Postmaster General, 1883-1886

Kapena resigned on February 13, 1883, to become Minister of Interior and Henry Whitney, once the Postmaster of Honolulu, was appointed Postmaster General of Hawaii on February 16, 1883. Whitney established the Postal Money Order department and oversaw the issuance of many new stamps during his tenure as PMG. Whitney also set up letter boxes for depositing mail in various locations throughout Honolulu. A scandal clouded Whitney's management and forced his resignation on April 15, 1886. J. B. Peterson was caught embezzling from the post office and in January, 1886, the post office was robbed. Blame for lax security and accounting fell on Whitney.

The Revolving Door - J. L. Kaulukou and Luther Aholo, Postmasters General, 1886

Two Postmasters General followed Whitney in quick succession. J. L. Kaulukou was appointed in Whitney's place on April 15, 1886. Kaulukou resigned to become Marshal of the Kingdom on July 31, 1886. Luther Aholo was appointed his replacement the same day. Aholo was appointed Minister of Interior and Attorney General and resigned as PMG on October 15, 1886.

Fred Wundenberg, Postmaster General, 1886-1891

Fred Wundenberg replaced Aholo on October 15, 1886. Wundenberg was a clerk in the post office and restored some stability to the post. However, Wundenberg apparently had a brusque manner that created problems with other government officials and with postal patrons, he ordered the removal of the letter boxes Whitney had set up and he engaged in trivial disputes with postmasters in country towns. His strong pro-annexation views finally got him in trouble with Queen Liliuokalani who forced his resignation on May 2, 1891. She replaced him with Walter Hill.

Walter Hill, Postmaster General, 1891-1893

Hill became ill in early 1893 and his family committed him to an insane asylum. His resignation was effective April 1, 1893.

Joseph M. Oat

Joseph M. Oat was appointed PMG on April 1, 1893. As PMG, Oat witnessed more profound changes in government than any other postmaster. He took office just after the revolution of 1893 brought down the throne and replaced it with a Committee of Safety, soon to become the Provisional Government of Hawaii. In 1894, the Provisional Government was replaced by The Republic of Hawaii and in August, 1898, the United States annexed Hawaii. After annexation, the Republic of Hawaii, including the postal service, remained in place until June 14, 1900, when the United States Territory of Hawaii began. Upon formation of the Territory, Oat stepped down from being Postmaster General of Hawaii and became the United States Postmaster for Honolulu. He finally left that office in 1905. During Oat's tenure, he supervised the overprinting of Hawaiian stamps for the Provisional Government, oversaw issuance of stamps for the Republic of Hawaii and also for Hawaii as a possession of the United States prior to formation of the Territory. In 1898, Oat re-established the letter boxes around Honolulu for depositing letters.

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