The missionaries who arrived in Lāhainā in 1823 explained to the Hawaiian Royalty the importance of an educational institution.
In 1823, Kalākua Kaheiheimālie (ke Aliʻi Hoapili wahine, wife of Governor Hoapili) offered the American missionaries a tract of land on the slopes surrounding Puʻu Paʻupaʻu for the creation of a high school.
Betsey Stockton from the 2nd Company of Protestant missionaries initially started a school for makaʻāinana (common people) and their wives and children on the site.
Later, on September 5, 1831, classes at the Mission Seminary at Lahainaluna (later known as Lahainaluna (Upper Lāhainā)) began in thatched huts with 25 Hawaiian young men (including David Malo, who went on to hold important positions in the kingdom, including the first Superintendent of Schools.)
When Lahainaluna High School first opened, Lāhainā was the capital of the kingdom of Hawaiʻi, and it was a bustling seaport for the Pacific whaling fleet.
Under the leadership of Reverend Lorrin Andrews, the school was established by the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions “to instruct young men of piety and promising talents”. It is the oldest high school west of the Mississippi River.
In September 1836, thirty-two boys between the ages of 10 and 20 were admitted as the first boarding students, from the neighbor islands, as well as from the “other side of the island”; thus, the beginning of the boarding school at Lahainaluna.
The boarding program became coed in 1980. The two dorms are David Malo Dormitory for the boys and Hoapili Dormitory for the girls. Previously, Hoapili housed both genders. Lahainaluna is one of only a few public boarding schools in the nation.
The missionaries soon saw that the future of the Congregational Mission in Hawaii would be largely dependent upon the success of its schools. The Mission then established “feeder schools” that would transmit to their students’ fundamental reading, writing, and arithmetic skills, and religious training, before admission to the Lahainaluna.
Initially, Hawaiian was the language used in instruction; in 1877, there was a shift to English. The students engaged in a variety of studies including geography, mathematics and history to prepare them for leadership roles in the Hawaiian community.
Lahainaluna was transferred from being operated by the American missionaries to the control of the Hawaiian Monarchy in 1849. By 1864, only Lahainaluna graduates were considered qualified to hold government positions such as lawyers, teachers, district magistrates and other important posts.
A notable structure on the campus is Hale Paʻi (the house of printing,) a small coral and timber building. Starting in 1834, it served as the home of Hawaiʻi’s first printing press. Hale Paʻi is associated with a number of “firsts” in Hawaii.
The first actual publishing in Hawaiʻi was done in Honolulu in 1822. It was at Lahainaluna, however, that the first newspaper ever printed in the Hawaiian Islands was published on February 14, 1834. This paper, called Ka Lama Hawaii (The Hawaiian, Luminary) was also the first newspaper published anywhere in the United States or its territories west of the Rocky Mountains.
Also published at Hale Paʻi for the first time were many portions of the first Hawaiian translation of the Bible, the first English translation of the first Hawaiian Declaration of Rights, the first Hawaiian Constitution, the first set of Hawaiian laws on property and taxation, the first Hawaiian school laws, the first paper money engraved and printed in Hawaiʻi, the first history of Hawaiʻi printed in Hawaiian and the first history of Hawaiʻi printed in English appearing in the Islands.
In 1834, Lahainaluna students first began engraving on copper plates. The initial purpose of this engraving was to provide maps for study, not only at the Seminary, but at schools throughout the Islands.
In the 1840s commercial development in Hawaiʻi – both trade and agriculture – began to take off. As business grew, so did the need for money.
At this time, the nation had no official currency of its own, relying instead on a variety of foreign coins and bills which circulated at an agreed rate of exchange based on the U.S. dollar. As early as 1836, private Hawaiian firms began to issue paper scrip of their own redeemable by the issuing company in coins or goods.
In early 1843, apparently, Lahainaluna first printed and issued its own paper money. Its primary purpose was evidently to pay the students for their work on the campus (up to 25 cents per week,) which was then used for payment of their rent and tuition.
Later, counterfeiting of the school’s currency was discovered. Then, the faculty, in accordance with their vote of January 8, 1844, called in and destroyed all the paper money they could find. Then, authorized the addition of secret marks to all the new currency and re-issued it.
In 1903, Lahainaluna became a vocational trade school and, in 1923, a technical high school, admitting both girls and boys as day students. It continues today as Lāhainā’s public high school.