The first newcomers were people of European ancestry, beginning with the English under Captain James Cook and then Americans who came as explorers, adventurers, businessmen and missionaries. At first, all foreigners were known as "haole," which means outsiders or non-Hawaiians. Since the first foreigners that the Hawaiians saw were Europeans, the word soon came to refer strictly to persons of European ancestry. This meaning continues to this day although sometimes it can also be used derogatorily.
Among the Caucasians who came in small groups as agricultural workers were Russians, Portuguese, Spaniards, Germans and Norwegians. Many of these groups intermarried with Hawaiians and other racial groups.
The first group of indentured Chinese plantation workers arrived in 1852. Between 1852 and 1856, several thousand Chinese were brought in to labor on the plantations. By 1884, this number had risen to 18,254. The Chinese people who migrated to Hawaii were mostly Cantonese from the Pearl River Delta near Macao. Quite a few Chinese married Hawaiian women. As a result, Hawaiian-Chinese families are common in Hawaii today.
In 1890 there were 12,610 Japanese listed in the census and the figure grew to 61,111 by 1900. By the early 1900's, Japanese made up some 40 percent of the population of the islands. A Federal Exclusion Act in 1924 almost completely halted any further immigration from Japan due to outgrowths of hostility towards them.
The majority of plantation laborers recruited to Hawaii came from the Far East. However, some also emigrated from Europe. Of these, the Portuguese formed the largest contingent from the Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Azores. Between 1878 and 1887, most of the 17,500 Portuguese contract workers for Hawaii's plantations arrived.
In 1903, the first major group of Korean immigrants arrived. This was marked by the arrival of the SS Gaelic from Inchon, Korea. During the next two and a half years, sixty-five boatloads of Korean laborers landed in Honolulu with 7,843 passengers. Upon their arrival, the immigrants were scattered to plantations on Oahu and the Big Island. Between 1911 and 1924, many of the bachelor Korean immigrants sent home for "picture brides." Eight hundred Korean women arrived. Subsequently, this helped to stabilize the Korean population in Hawaii.
The Filipinos were the last large-scale arrival of immigrant groups recruited to Hawaii as plantation laborers. They were drawn mainly within the Philippine Islands - Tagalogs, Visayans, and Ilocanos. Between 1907 and 1931, nearly 120,000 Filipinos, mostly males, came to the islands.
On December 23, 1900, the ship Rio de Janeiro entered Honolulu harbor with the first significant group of Puerto Ricans brought to Hawaii for plantation work. Due to some similarities in culture and general appearance, the Puerto Ricans intermarried frequently with Filipinos, Portuguese, Spaniards and Hawaiians. The 1950 census, the last in Hawaii which counted Puerto Ricans as a separate group, gave a Puerto Rican population of 10,000.
The Samoan migration to Hawaii was unique in that the Samoans did not come as plantation workers and they were the only significant group of Polynesian migrants to Hawaii. The first large group of Samoans came to Hawaii in 1919 when the Mormon temple was built in Laie on Oahu's northeastern shore. In 1952 about 1,000 Samoans arrived in Hawaii. It is estimated that in the 1970s that there were more than 13,000 Samoans and part-Samoans resident in Hawaii, the majority of them on Oahu.