The first gathering from different Pacific countries met in Hawai‘i on August 2-20, 1920 in the First Pan-Pacific Scientific Conference. Later, the First Pan-Pacific Educational Conference was held in Honolulu, August 11-24, 1921. About this time the Bureau of American Republics was being organized into the Pan-American Union at Washington, DC.
“The Pan-Pacific Union, representing the lands about the greatest of oceans, is supported by appropriations from Pacific governments. It works chiefly through the calling of conferences, for the greater advancement of, and cooperation among, all the races and peoples of the Pacific.” (Pan-Pacific Union Bulletin, December 1924)
“In the beginning, the union may with justice be acclaimed the handiwork of one man, Alexander Hume Ford. He it was who in 1908 translated an idealistic dream of a brotherhood of Pacific races into an equally idealistic but more substantial organization dedicated to the furtherance of interracial good will and amity.”
“He it was who, after a long battle to gain the support of an at first skeptical Hawaii to the new Pan-Pacific Union visited the capitals of the oriental countries, the Australasian states, Canada and the United States, gaining pledges of support for the new movement from statesmen wherever he went.”
“And again it has been Ford who has fought for legislative appropriations to carry on the work, Ford who has personally fostered and built up a strong spirit of mutual respect and friendship among the diversified nationalities of Hawai‘i”. (Pan-Pacific Union Bulletin, July 1922)
‘Pan-Pacific Union’ was the local expression of the larger ‘Hands-around-the-Pacific’ movement, which embraced all countries in and about the vast western ocean – the future theatre of the world’s greatest activities. (The Friend, May 1, 1918)
Ford’s “‘The Mid-Pacific Magazine,’ published at the Cross-Roads of the Pacific, (served as a) Pan-Pacific publication, presenting monthly interesting facts, fictions, poetry and general articles concerning the lands in and bordering on the great ocean.”
The projected calling of a Pan-Pacific conference to meet in Hawaiʻi, the establishment of a Pan-Pacific commercial college in Honolulu and the project of a Pan-Pacific peace exposition here after the war was launched by a number of influential business men. (Mid-Pacific Magazine, 1918)
A Pan-Pacific commercial college was considered one of the best means to bring Hawaiʻi into closer communion with the countries of the Far East while the exposition and general conference would create a sentiment in the countries of the Pacific to make the Pacific independent in its resources and make Hawaiʻi a real cross-road of the Pacific. (Oregon News, June 26, 1918)
In 1924, the Mary Castle Estate allowed the Pan-Pacific Research Institute to use her former home, Puʻuhonua, in Mānoa for University of Hawai‘i student and other use to “tackle the scientific problems of the Pacific peoples, especially those of food production, protection and conservation.”
“The assistant students will, it is expected, attend the University of Hawai‘i, where they will take their degrees. Two such students from the mainland now with scientific party here, are expected to be the first of such entries in the University of Hawaii with others to follow from lands across the Pacific.”
“The gift will be used as the nucleus of the Pan-Pacific University, for which charter was granted some years ago. This will be graduate university chiefly for research work.”
“The chief work of the Pan-Pacific Research Institute will be along lines of research study of food resources of Pacific lands and of the ocean itself. It will be entirely Pan-Pacific Institute connected with no other body but cooperating with kindred bodies in all Pacific lands. It will be neither American, Hawaiian nor Japanese, but governed by scientists from all Pacific regions.”
“Conferences are being held with the heads of several delegations already here from Pacific lands, and cable invitations have been sent to others to hurry on and take part in the deliberations as to the work the institute shall undertake for the peoples of the Pacific area.” (Bulletin of the Pan Pacific Union, September 1924)
In the following 16-years the Pan-Pacific Union became a sort of early “think tank” capable of providing “perfect quiet for study, remote from disturbances, with ample room for visiting scientists to live and work.”
Many other institutions were happy to cooperate. The Bishop Museum lodged research fellows there, often for a year at a time. There was one charge for the lodgers: a visitor was expected to give at least one of the weekly public lectures.
A Junior Science Council was added. In 1933 Ford wrote that “twenty students of all races and from many localities, members of the Pan-Pacific Student’s Club who are attending the University of Hawai‘i, are occupying the barn and carriage house in a cooperative housekeeping arrangement and working out in their own way ideas which may promote happier international relations.” (Robb & Vicars)
The big house was finally torn down in 1941. The other associated structures lay empty, and gradually they disintegrated. Termites had long been a problem.
A combination of lack of attention to administrative detail, inadequate long-term funding arrangements, declining governmental support (compounded by the global economic depression,) and, perhaps above all, a shift in support on the part of Hawai‘i’s socio-economic leaders from the Pan-Pacific Union to the new Institute of Pacific Relations, resulted in the group’s slow decline.
By the advent of WW II, Pan-Pacific Union had withered into insignificance and, with Ford himself in rapidly declining health, it simply disappeared.
This does not mean the Pan-Pacific Union and Ford were at last irrelevant. (UH) As a local newspaper editorialized at the time of Ford’s death in 1946, he “did more than any other man to acquaint the whole wide world with the importance of Hawai‘i in the Pacific theater.” (Honolulu Advertiser, October 18, 1946; UH)