Discover Honolulu: Kamehameha V Post Office

In the 19th century when Honolulu was burgeoning with life as a key trading point in the Pacific Ocean, one big thing was missing: postal service.

Honolulu’s first postmaster

In 1850, Mr. H. M. Whitney was appointed as Honolulu’s very first postmaster, marking the beginning of a new era for the island metropolis. Hawaii would no longer be isolated from the world, and trade with outside countries would increase because of it. Compared to today, where we Tweet and txt and email faster than a heartbeat, the pace of a 19th century letter would seem long. In 1850, when Mr. Whitney lead Hawaii into a new era, a piece of mail was transported by sailing ship. It could take months to deliver a letter! Nevertheless, this new outlet provided Hawaii with new opportunities, and King Kamehameha V saw those doors as they opened. He took the next big step.

The King Kamehameha V Post Office

In downtown Honolulu, on the corner of Bethel and Merchant Streets, the Kamehameha V Post Office stands. Today, it houses a theater, but in 1871 it was heralded as the first building in the Pacific to be constructed entirely of precast concrete blocks reinforced with iron bars. To architects, this building is a landmark in its own right–it’s the oldest public building in America that is made entirely of reinforced concrete. In 1922, the post office moved to another building on Merchant and Richards Streets, undergoing several changes over the years. The building was named in honor of Hawaii’s fifth king, who ordered the construction of the building in 1870. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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