History of Guam
The Southernmost and largest of the Mariana Islands, Guam lies at 144 degrees East longitude and 13 degrees North latitude, a three-hour plane ride from Tokyo, Manila or Taipei and slightly father from Seoul or Hong Kong.
Guam is about 30 miles long and between four and 10 miles wide with an area of 212 square miles. It was formed when a volcano rising from the ocean floor fused with the crater of a much older volcano to the north. The Southern part of Guam is made up of hills as high as 1,334 feet above sea level that are home to rivers and waterfalls. The Northern section consists of a limestone plateau with cliffs dropping down to a coastel shelf.
Guam is warm throughout the year. Easterly trade winds, between 4 and 12 miles per hour, keep the island quite pleasant. The mean annual temperature is about 81 degrees Fahrenheit with a dry season from January through May that is slight cooler. Annual rainfall averages 100 inches.
Guam history is usually divided into three eras: the pre-contact period between 1521, the Spanish period from 1521 to 1898 and the American period from 1898 to present.
It is believed that Chamorros, the indigenous people of the Marianas, first settled the island about 3,000 years ago. Linguistic and cultural simillarities link them to Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. The Chamorros flourished as a fishing, horticultural and skilled craftsmen who built unique houses and canoes. They were also skilled at intricate weaving and pottery making.
On March 16, 1521, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, sailing under the Spanish flag as he attempted to circumnaviage the globe, stopped in Guam for three days to refurbish his ships and trade iron objects for produce and water.
Magellan’s chronicler described Chamorro thatched houses atop solid coral columns known as latte stones. To this day, remains of the unique latte can be found at a number of locations throughout the Marianas.
In 1668, missionaries led by Father Diego Luis de San Vitores arrived to convert the people to Christianity. They were accompanied by Spanish soldiers whose established a military outpost and installed a governor. The cathedral in Hagatna is believed to be built on the site of San Vitores’ first church.
Guam also became a port-of-call for Spanish galleons that sailed from Acapulco to Manila carrying gold and silver to be traded for Chinese silks and spices.
In 1898, Guam was ceded to the United States following the Spanish-American War. President William McKinley placed Guam under the administration of the Department of the Navy.
The Navy used Guam as a coding and communications station. The Pan American Airways China Clipper airplane stopped on Guam on its trans-Pacific flights beginning in 1935. On Dec. 8, 1941, the island fell to Japanese forces within hours of the Pearl Harbor attack in Hawaii.
Japanese forces occupied Guam until July 21, 1944 when American forces landed and began a bitter three-week battle that claimed thousands of Chamorro, American and Japanese lives. Every year, July 21 is celebrated on Guam as Liberation Day.
On Aug. 1, 1950, President Harry Truman signed the Organic Act, making Guam an unincorpporated territory of the United States with limited self-governance. The act established an American-style civilian government and granted US citizenship to the people.
Guam is subject to U.S. federal law, and a number of U.S. government agencies have offices on Guam. In 1970, for the first time, Guamanians elected a governor and lieutenant governor. The island is represented in the U.S. Congress by a nonvoting delegate, and residents do not vote for the U.S. President.
In 1962, the Navy lifted the Cold War security clearance requirement for travel to and from Guam, allowing the island’s economy to grow. In 1967, Pa Am inagurated air service between Japan and Guam, launching the island’s tourism industry.
In addition to inviting beaches, elegant hotels and shopping bargains. Guam offers visitors a change to experience its unique island culture. Despite wars, earthquakes, typhoons and changing governments, Guam’s culture has expanded into a vibrant, modern way of life.
Most visitors to Guam notice the diversity of the island’s population, all of whom contribute to the island’s wonderful combination of cuisine, arts, and business. Census figures from 2010 indicate that the ethnic composition of the 159,000 people who live on the island is 37% Chamorro, 26% Filipono, 7% Caucasian and 30% Micronesian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, other Pacific Islanders, Vietnames, Indians, Australians, and Europeans. While English is the common language, Chamorro is also, by custom and law, an official language, and the local people often speak it.
Visitors and residents enjoy the island’s climate and natural beauty. Snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing, jet skiing, fishing and other activities that take place in the island’s pristine marine environment are popular. Visitors – about 36% of whom come from Japan and 50% from Korea with growing numbers from Taiwan, China and Russia – also enjoy golfing on the island’s world-class golf courses, frolicking in water parks, watching dinner shows and shopping. Today, Guam’s tourist industry attracts more than one million visitors each year. The industry boasts 26 hotels with more than 8,000 rooms and contributes about $35 million to local government coffers each year. Through the island’s numerous restaurants, tour companies and retail outlets, tourism brings billions of dollars into Guam annually.