“Perhaps never since the invention of printing was a printing press employed so extensively as that has been at the Sandwich islands, with so little expense, and so great a certainty that every page of its productions would be read with attention and profit.” (Barber, 1833)
The members of the Sandwich Islands Mission sent from Boston by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) had in their collective mind it was absolutely essential to have printed material available as soon as possible to reinforce their efforts in disseminating the gospel across the Islands.
The missionaries began their printing activities even before they had settled on a standard alphabet and spelling for the previously unwritten Hawaiian language.
So they set to work almost immediately and in only two years completed the complicated task of developing a preliminary written language. However, the final decisions in choice between ‘t’ and ‘k,’ ‘b’ and ‘p,’ ‘r’ and ‘l,’ ‘v’ and ‘w’ were made later.
Only after prolonged discussion among the members of the group and their native informants. Agreement was reached in 1826, when the Hawaiian alphabet was established with twelve letters: a, e, i, o, u, h, k, l, m, n, p and w.
“The first printing press at the Hawaiian Islands was imported by the American missionaries, and landed from the brig Thaddeus, at Honolulu …. It was not unlike the first used by Benjamin Franklin, and was set up in a thatched house standing a few fathoms from the old mission frame house”. (Hunnewell; Ballou)
On Monday, January 7, 1822, an event took place that would have enormous importance for the Islands. Standing beside a printing press in a grass-roofed hut, and observed by an American printer, shipmasters, missionaries, and traders, Chief Ke‘eaumoku put his hand on the press lever, exerted pressure, and printed wet black syllables in Hawaiian and English. (HHS)
At this inauguration there were present his Excellency Governor (Ke‘eaumoku (Gov. Cox,)) a chief of the first rank, with his retinue; some other chiefs and natives; Rev. Hiram Bingham, missionary; Mr. Loomis, printer, (who had just completed setting it up); James Hunnewell; Captain William Henry and Captain Masters (Americans.) (Ballou)
These were the first printed pages created in Hawai‘i for an eight-page speller to be used in Hawaiian schools sponsored by the Protestant Mission. (None of which now survive.)
“We are happy to announce to you that, on the first Monday of January (1822), we commenced printing, and, with great satisfaction, have put the first eight pages of the Owhyhee spellingbook into the hands of our pupils”.
Native Hawaiians immediately perceived the importance of “palapala” – document, to write or send a message. “Makai” – “good” – exclaimed Chief Ke‘eaumoku, to thus begin the torrent of print communications that we have today. (HHS)
Thereafter, printing on the first press, a second-hand Ramage, went on continuously for six years, until in 1828 an additional press was sent from Boston. The original press was acquired by the missionary school at Lahainaluna on Maui in 1834.
“… until March 20, 1830, scarcely ten years after the mission was commenced, twenty-two distinct books had been printed in the native language, averaging thirty-six small pages, and amounting to three hundred and eighty-seven thousand copies, and ten million two hundred and eighty-seven thousand and eight hundred pages.”
“This printing was executed at Honolulu, where there are two presses. But besides this, three-million three-hundred and forty-five-thousand pages in the Hawaiian language have been printed in the United States (viz. a large edition of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and John) …”
“… which swells the whole amount of printing in this time, for the use of the islanders, to thirteen-million six-hundred and thirty-two thousand eight hundred pages.”
“Reckoning the twenty-two distinct works in a continuous series, the number of pages in the series is eight-hundred and thirty-two. Of these, forty are elementary, and the rest are portions of Scripture, or else strictly evangelical and most important matter, the best adapted to the condition and wants of the people that could be selected under existing circumstances.” (Barber, 1833)
In the meantime, a Wells-model press arrived at Lahainaluna in 1832 and it carried the major load of the printing there. Elisha Loomis, a member of the Pioneer Company, was the first printer of Hawaiian material. With the help of native apprentices, he worked at his trade in Honolulu until 1827, when, health failing, he returned to America.
The presses of the Sandwich Islands Mission in Honolulu and Lahainaluna were the major printers of books in Hawaiian in the Islands until 1858, when the work of printing for the Mission was handed over on a business basis to Henry M. Whitney, a missionary son.
He continued to handle the Hawaiian language books for the Hawaiian Evangelical Association, which had superseded the Sandwich Islands Mission in 1854.
The Bible was translated from the original Greek and Hebrew by the combined efforts of Hiram Bingham and Asa Thurston of the Pioneer Company, Artemas Bishop and James Ely of the Second Company, William Richards, Lorrin Andrews, Jonathan Green, and Ephraim Clark of the Third Company, and Sheldon Dibble of the Fourth Company.
Although the work was begun in 1822, the first segment of the Bible, the Gospel of Luke, did not come off the press until 1827. The rest of the New Testament was completed by 1832 and the Old Testament in 1839 (although the date given on the title page is 1838).
The mission press printed 10,000-copies of Ka Palapala Hemolele (The Holy Scriptures). It was 2,331-pages long printed front and back.
The mission press also printed newspaper, hymnals, schoolbooks, broadsides, fliers, laws, and proclamations. The mission presses printed over 113,000,000 sheets of paper in 20 years. (Mission Houses) (Lots of information here is from Mission Houses, Barber and Judd.)