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Seventy-five years ago, on December 7, 1941, war came to a remote Pacific outpost, and forced an isolationist nation to rise as a global superpower.
USA TODAY NETWORK

It was whaling, sugar and pineapples that first brought Pearl Harbor to America’s attention.

At the whaling industry’s peak in 1846, nearly 800 whaling vessels made port calls in the Hawaiian Islands, mostly U.S.-flagged ships, according to Navy history and heritage command. The Navy was ordered to send regular patrols around the islands to protect the commercial whaling ships from pirates or rival nations.

The impact on Hawaii, an exotic land where natives farmed and fished for centuries, was dramatic. Ship repair facilities cropped up, and Honolulu and Lahaina became bustling towns catering to hungry, thirsty and sometimes rowdy sailors. Bakeries, laundries, carpenter shops, blacksmiths and boarding houses sprang up overnight, according to a Navy history command account of those years.

“Business was booming,” said Guy Nasuti, a Navy historian.

Just when it seemed the growth would never stop, it did. The discovery of oil in 1859 in Pennsylvania devastated the whaling industry, since the need for whale oil for lamps and other uses drove much of the demand. The Civil War then devastated what was left of the fleet. The Confederate ship Shenandoah pursued Yankee whaling ships into the farthest reaches of the Pacific, successfully sinking many of them, in an effort to knock the air out of the Union economy.

By the late part of the 19th century, Hawaii’s whaling boom was over.

But Washington didn’t lose interest in using Hawaii as a toehold in the Pacific.

The Civil War may have helped kill the whaling industry, but it provided Hawaii with another economic opportunity and America with…