history of the Marshall Islands
500 BC-2000 BC (approx.): The first Micronesian navigators arrive in
the Marshalls, calling the atolls Aelon Kein Ad (Our Islands). Dates and
origins of the settlers are still uncertain. While controversial,
archeological finds on Bikini Atoll in the late 1980s were carbon dated to
2000 years BC, suggesting that people may have settled the Marshalls as long
as 4,000 years ago.
1494: The Treaty of Tordesillas cedes ownership of all of Micronesia to
1529: Seeking a western route to the ‘Spice Islands’, Spaniard Alvaro
Saavedra becomes the first European to “discover” the Marshalls.
1788: The area now known as the RMI was given its name by British Naval
Captain John Marshall, who sailed through the area on the Scarborough while
transporting convicts for New South Wales, Australia, between Botany Bay and
1857: Rev. Hiram Bingham, Jr. of the American Board of Commissioners for
Foreign Missions (ABCFM) creates a missionary outpost on Ebon.
1860s: Adolph Capelle builds first large-scale trading company in the
Marshalls. Several German trading firms begin operations in the Marshalls
1878: Captain von Werner of the German Navy enters into a treaty with
inhabitants of the Ralik chain, granting special trade privileges.
1885: Under mediation of Pope Leo XIII, German government annexes the
Marshalls with compensation to Spain in the amount of $4.5 million.
1886: Germany establishes a protectorate over the Marshalls.
1887: Formation of the Jaluit Company, a German entity entrusted with
governance of the Marshalls.
1898: Germany receives ownership of the disputed atolls of Ujelang
and Enewetak as a result of the end of the Spanish-American War.
1914: The Marshalls are captured from Germany by Japan.
1920: League of Nations grants a mandate to Japan to administer the
1934: Japan withdraws from the League, but retains possession of the
Marshalls. Fortification of the Marshall Islands begins as Japan prepares
for war. The islands of Mili, Jaluit, Maloelap, Wotje and Kwajalein are
developed into bases.
1943: Allied invasion of the Marshalls begins.
1944: Allied occupation of the Marshalls.
1945: End of World War II grants effective control to the US.
1946: US begins its nuclear testing program in the Marshalls. Bikini
Atoll is evacuated for Operation Crossroads.
1947: The RMI becomes one of six entities in the Trust Territory of
the Pacific Islands (TTPI) established by the United Nations with the US as
1948: US expands its testing program to include Enewetak atoll.
1951: US Department of the Interior assumes responsibility within US
Government for the TTPI from the Department of the Navy.
1952: The first hydrogen device under the US testing program in the
Marshalls is fired on Enewetak.
1954: US nuclear testing program detonates Bravo, the most powerful
hydrogen bomb ever tested by the US, on Bikini Atoll. Radiation from the
test forces evacuation of Marshallese and US military personnel on Rongelap,
Rongerik, Utirik and Ailinginae.
1957: The last of those evacuated, the Rongelapese, are allowed to
return to their island. Fearing further contamination, they self-evacuate in
1965: The Congress of Micronesia is formed, with representatives from
all of the TTPI islands. It is created by the US administration in
preparation for greater self-governance by Micronesians.
1978: Marshall Islands Constitutional Convention adopts the nation’s
1979: Government of the Marshall Islands officially established, and
country becomes self-governing.
1982: Official name changed to the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI).
1983: Voters in the RMI approve the Compact of Free Association with
the United States.
1986: U.S. Congress approves the Compact, resulting in its entry into
force. The Compact grants the RMI its sovereignty and provides for aid and
US defense of the islands in exchange for continued US military use of the
missile testing range at Kwajalein Atoll.
1990: UN Security Council terminates the RMI’s Trusteeship status.
1991: RMI joins the United Nations.
2003: Although often thought to expire in 2001, the Compact of Free
Association actually extends until 2003 to allow for the important
relationship to continue unhindered while the US-RMI negotiate.
2004: Compact II signed. The new 20-year deal with the US will
provide the RMI with approximately $40 million a year in grants and trust
fund money and $15 million a year in rental of the Kwajalein missile range.
• Timeline courtesy RMI Embassy, Washington, DC.
and maintained by Consolidated Management Resources, LLC.