Over the years, the face of Pearl Harbor has changed dramatically. When the first Westerner, British seafarer Captain James Cook, came to the islands in 1778, a coral reef barred the entrance of the place known as Wai Momi, making it unsuitable as a port for deep-draft shipping. At that time, nearby Honolulu Harbor was an infinitely more hospitable destination. It wasn’t until 1826 that the US Navy had its first contact with the Hawaiian Islands, when the schooner USS Dolphin sailed into port.
After that, it took more than 13 years for the Navy to begin to recognize the potential of Pearl Harbor. Despite gaining exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor in 1887, the US did not make any attempt to take advantage of their claim on this strategic estuary until well after the turn of the century. Beginning in 1902, the entry channel was dredged, deepened, and widened. Upon the completion of the dredging operations (December 14, 1911,) an official entry was made by the flagship California. On board the California was former President of the Republic of Hawaii Sanford Dole and Queen Lili‘uokalani.