During a recent vacation in Hawaii, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting the beautiful ‘Iolani Palace, the official residence of Hawaiian monarchs in the late 1800s and the only royal residence on U.S. territory. The building was constructed between 1879 and 1882 during the reign of King David Kalakaua (1874-1891). Kalakaua wanted the ‘Iolani to showcase the independence and sophistication of the Hawaiian people and spared no expense in its construction. It contains slate from Pennsylvania, Italian marble, the finest Hawaiian wood, and steel columns from San Francisco.
Kalakaua, an “early adopter,” was a fan of Thomas Edison, whom he met on a trip to the U.S. in 1881, and equipped the ‘Iolani with cutting-edge technology imported from around the world. The ‘Iolani was the first royal residence in the world to have modern indoor plumbing, electric lighting and a telephone. Even the doors are outfitted with the latest patented transom-lifters designed by John F. Wollensak of Chicago. (A transom is a hinged window located above a door that can be opened for air circulation.) Each transom-lifter lever was labeled with the “PATD” and the date of the issued patents (I’ve included the numbers in parantheses): March 11, 1873 (#136,801); March 10, 1874 (#148,538); and July 20, 1880 (#RE9,307).
Kalakuau also equipped his Royal Guards with the latest European and American weapons. In the ‘Iolani Barracks located next to the Palace you can view two 12 pounder breech-loading cannons designed by William H. Driggs of Washington, D.C. Commander Driggs (1847-1908) was a ordnance designer for the U.S. Navy who patented many improvements in rapid-fire artillery and ammunition. The ‘Iolani cannon bear two patent dates, April 5, 1887 (#360,798) and February 28, 1888 (#378,828).
One of the earliest U.S. patents granted to a resident of Hawaii was issued on August 15, 1876 to William Brede, a resident of Lihue on the island of Kanai, for a new improvement in shaping attachments for engine-lathes (#181,032). After touring the ‘Iolani, I reflected on the fact that Hawaii in the 1880s, a remote island nation with a tiny population, was both importing and exporting the latest patented technology.