King David Kalakaua


About King David Kalakaua


King Kalakaua was Hawaiis last reigning king. He was elected to power in 1874, and ruled Hawaii for 16 years until his death in 1891. Known as The Merrie Monarch Kalakaua revived elements of Hawaiian culture which had nearly been forgotten. These included the ancient Hawaiian martial art of Lua and the dance of Hula.

Kalakaua also had a great passion for technology. He was a bit of an inventor himself, and had met Thomas Edison. Kalakaua wanted to lead his people into a new era with strong ties to the past, while incorporating technologies of the present to build a brighter future.

As one of the most influential monarchs in the Kingdom of Hawaii’s history. His name is perpetuated with Kalakaua Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Waikiki Beach and one of the busiest streets in the state.


King David Kalakaua was born in 1836 on Maui during the reign of King Kamehameha III. He moved to Oahu at the age of 4 and grew up attending the Royal School. He was fluent in Hawaiian and English, and was a talented musician. He began studying law at the age of 16, served on the staff of Kink Kamehameha IV, was Postmaster General for Hawaii, and also worked in Hawaiis Department of the Interior.

After the passing of King Kamehameha V, Kalakaua ran in the elections of 1872 but lost to William Lunalilo, who went on to be known as King Lunalilo. Lunalilo suffered from health problems and died of tuberculosis only 13 months into his reign at age 39. Lunalilo purposefully did not name a successor so the people of Hawaii would have the chance to vote on their new king. Kalakaua was elected king in 1874, beating out dowager Queen Emma, widow of King Lunalilo.

During his reign Kalakaua accomplished much for Hawaii. He was the first reigning monarch to take a world tour while his sister, Queen Liliuokalani, acted as regent. He met with many foreign dignitaries and established an early reputation for Hawaii as a capable and respectable kingdom. Many heads of state gifted him with portraits of themselves showing Kalakaua that he was an equal among the worlds leaders. Kalakaua also gave them gifts of Hawaiian culture, like royal feather capes, spreading artifacts of Hawaiiana throughout the world.

King Kalakaua also built Iolani Palace. Many of the royal furnishings were chosen by him on his world tour, including the Kingdom of Hawaiis crown jewels. He had a passion for technology and outfitted the palace with electricity and telephones. The palace actually had electricity before the White House did. He wanted to lead his people into the new era to emerging technology while still holding true to the islands cultural roots.

Kalakaua was married to Queen Kapiolani, but they had no children. In 1890 his health began to fail and he went to California to receive aid. He passed away in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. After his passing in 1891, his sister Liliuokalani would go on to succeed him on the throne, but she would be Hawaiis last monarch.

Facts & Trivia

  • Island: Famous People
  • Fun Fact: King Kalakaua was the first reigning monarch to take a journey which circumnavigated the world. Stops included Japan, China, Siam, India, Egypt, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Spain, England, and many cities in the United States.
  • Pop Culture: The yearly hula competition "Merrie Monarch Festival" was named for King Kalakaua and his revival of the popular Hawaiian pastime.