On Monday, January 7, 1822, an event took place that would have enormous importance for the Islands. Standing beside a printing press in a grass-roofed hut, and observed by an American printer, shipmasters, missionaries, and traders, Chief Ke‘eaumoku put his hand on the press lever, exerted pressure, and printed wet black syllables in Hawaiian and English. These were the first printed pages created in Hawai‘i for an eight-page speller to be used in Hawaiian schools sponsored by the Protestant Mission.
Printer Elisha Loomis was in charge of the enterprise. He had arrived with the first company of missionaries in 1820. From upstate New York, the twenty-year-old printing apprentice had been released by his “master” to the mission. Loomis brought the old wood and iron contraption and two years to give written form to the oral Hawaiian language. On that fateful Monday, in the grass hut on mission grounds—at the present South King and Kawaiaha‘o Streets—Loomis inked the form, put a sheet of paper in place, and readied the press for the Maui chief.
Print, the oldest of the industrial processes, is a revolutionary technology that has altered environments wherever it has been introduced. Native Hawaiians immediately perceived the importance of “palapala”—to write or send a message. “Makai”—“good”—exclaimed Chief Ke‘eaumoku, to thus begin the torrent of print communications that we have today.
By Helen G. Chapin