The business center of Hawaii island, Hilo Harbor is the seat of Hawaii County. Hilo Harbor is about 200 nautical miles (346 kilometers or 215 miles by air) southeast of Honolulu Harbor. It is also over 3.7 thousand kilometers (2.3 thousand miles) southwest of San Francisco. Hilo Harbor is home to about 44 thousand people.
Hilo Harbor is Hawaii's second biggest city, and it is the oldest city in the archipelago. Tourism is an important part of the Hilo Harbor economy. Hilo Harbor is home to the State's only museum dedicated to tsunamis, focusing on the 1946 Pacific Tsunami that killed 160 people in Hilo Harbor on April Fool's Day.
While there is limited archaeological evidence of the people who lived in the Hilo Harbor area in ancient Hawaii, oral history and local legend indicate that Polynesians first settled Hilo Harbor around 1100 AD.
English missionary William Ellis arrived in Hilo Harbor in 1823 when the main settlement there was called Waiakea. Christian missionaries continued to come to Hilo Harbor until the mid-19th Century. The missionaries were followed by trade ships and whalers that used the Hilo Harbor port.
As Europeans and Americans established sugar plantations on the island, Hilo Harbor became an important trading center. Many new jobs attracted workers from Asia.
In the early 20th Century, a breakwater was constructed across Hilo Bay. In 1946, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake located in the Aleutian Islands caused a 14-meter tsunami that killed 160 people and created expensive damage in Hilo Harbor. The tsunami destroyed the Hawaii Consolidated Railway which was replaced with the Hawaii Belt Road. As a result of the disaster, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center was created in 1949 to track and warn people about killer waves.
In 1960, a 9.5 magnitude earthquake off Chile's coast created another tsunami that took 61 lives in Hilo Harbor. Low-lying areas in Hilo Harbor were inundated, especially in the areas on Waiakea peninsula, and the areas were recreated as parks and memorials rather than rebuilding homes and businesses.
In the 1960s, Hilo Harbor began to grow inland. By the 1980s, the Hilo Harbor downtown had become a cultural center, home to several museums and galleries. In 1998, the Palace Theatre was reopened to show art and specialty films.
The sugar plantations began to close in the 1990s, leading to a slump in the local economy while the State was also going through economic hardship. However, in the recent past, Hilo Harbor has undergone revived population and commercial growth. The Puna district, on the western shores of the island just 30 kilometers (18 miles) southwest of Hilo Harbor, has become Hawaii's fastest-growing region.