The ukulele, a small four-stringed instrument of Portuguese origin, was patented in Hawaii in 1917, deriving its name from the Hawaiian word for “leaping flea.” Immigrants from the island of Madeira first brought to Hawaii a pair of Portuguese instruments in the late 1870s from which the ukuleles eventually developed. Trace back to the origins of the ukulele, follow its evolution and path to present-day popularity, and explore interesting facts about this instrument with Oxford Reference.
1. Developed from a four-string Madeiran instrument and built from Hawaiian koa wood, ukuleles were popular among the Hawaiian royalty in the late 19th century.
2. 1893’s World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago saw the first major performance of Hawaiian music with ukulele on the mainland.
3. By 1916, Hawaiian music became a national craze, and the ukulele was incorporated into popular American culture soon afterwards.
4. Singin’ In The Rain vocalist Cliff Edwards was also known as Ukulele Ike, and was one of the best known ukulele players during the height of the instrument’s popularity in the United States.
5. When its sales reached millions in the 1920s, the ukulele became an icon of the decade in the United States.
6. Ernest Ka’ai wrote the earliest known ukulele method in The Ukulele, A Hawaiian Guitar and How to Play It, 1906.
7. The highest paid entertainer and top box office attraction in Britain during the 1930s and 40s, George Fromby, popularized the ukulele in the United Kingdom.
Headline image credit: Ukuleles. Photo by Ian Ransley. CC BY 2.0 via design-dog Flickr.