Senator Hiram L. Fong Papers
The Senator Hiram L. Fong Papers were received by the University of Hawaii Library in August 1998. Approximately 660 record center boxes were delivered to the repository at that time. Photographs and audiovisual materials had been separated out and subsequently rehoused by preservation department library staff. The bulk of the collection was processed from February through August 2003.
Almost all of the material dates from the time of Fong’s Senate term, 1959-1977. There is a small amount of material dating from Fong’s school days and early career, and a small amount relating to his post-Senate career. The physical condition of the collection was generally good. Only one box relating to the energy crisis of the early 1970s was extremely moldy, with pages stuck together. Most of the collection was in fairly good shape with some deterioration from acidic folders and paper. Paper clips and staples throughout the collection were rusty; paper clips were largely removed. Scrapbooks were generally brittle and breaking along the bindings. As processing and staff time were extremely limited, only the most basic remedial preservation work took place.
The papers have been organized into series, subseries, and in some cases, sub-subseries (see Series List). When arrangement and description of the papers began, they were loosely divided into series apparently devised by the Fong office staff at the time Sen. Fong retired (some of these early inventories—the “Green Binders”—may still contain useful information although the papers were reorganized during processing).
Over time, the meaning of those original series designations, and the distinctions between them, had been somewhat lost. The three largest series, WB/WC, H, and POCS— presumably standing for “Washington,” “Hawaii” and “Post Office and Civil Service” Committee—were found to be somewhat disorganized and with a great deal of overlap: all three series included legislative material, press material, speeches, and committee work. Records in any given box did not necessarily come from the same or succeeding years, and records of very different types were often housed together with little or no information on folder labels to explain the filing system.
Because of the lack of any overriding system of organization, this series division was not preserved. Instead, the decision was made to establish a Legislative series, a Committees series, and an Office series, which together contain the material originally found in WB/WC and H. Another series, Public Relations, is virtually the same as the original “RBSS” (Radio Broadcasts, Speeches and Statements) series, with the addition of extraneous press material found in other boxes.
Duplicates were discarded, as were inserts of Fong’s speeches as printed in the Congressional Record (they are readily available elsewhere, most conveniently in Hamilton Library’s Government Documents department). Other discards included requests for recommendation to military academies containing sensitive personal information and moldy reel-to-reel film and audiotape.
All of the papers are open for research with the exception of the confidential Casework series—sensitive files on immigration, civil service and armed services (veterans and draft issues)—and the subseries “Family and Household” within the Personal series, comprising mostly family correspondence. These are restricted except by permission of the Hawaii Congressional Papers Archivist.
For other research and biographical materials related to Hiram L. Fong, please consult the University of Hawaii Library’s online catalog for oral histories, videorecordings, articles and books, as well as other congressmembers’ papers in the Hawaii Congressional Papers Collection.
- 1910 - 1999
- Fong, Hiram, 1907-2004 (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
The Hawaiʻi Congressional Papers Collection is accessible in the University Archives and Manuscripts Department's John Troup Moir, Jr., and Gertrude M.F. Moir Archives Reading Room. For more information, please contact the Congressional Papers Archivist by email: email@example.com, or phone: 808-956-6047.
Literary Rights Notice
564 Linear Feet (564 boxes)
Hiram Ah Leong Fong (1906-2004) served as one of the first United States senators from the new state of Hawaii during the period 1959 to 1977. Previously a successful lawyer and businessman in Honolulu, Fong had also played an active role in territorial Hawaii politics and the Republican Party. He was first elected to the Territory of Hawaii's House of Representatives in 1938, and over the course of the next 15 years, Fong became a Republican Floor Leader and then Speaker of the House. In addition, he was a delegate to the Republican National Conventions of 1952 and 1956. At the same time, he helped to establish the Finance Factors family of investment and realty companies, which became highly successful.
Fong’s business acumen and achievements were the result of hard work and an ambition to make good on humble beginnings. The son of poor Chinese immigrants, he began doing odd jobs to help support his family at the age of 4. He continued to work while attending elementary and secondary school in the Kalihi neighborhood of Honolulu, then took a job at the U.S. Navy installation at Pearl Harbor to save money for college. He worked his way through the University of Hawaii, where he was active in extracurricular activities such as debating, and Harvard Law School, from which he graduated in 1935. Fong then returned to Hawaii to establish a law practice. Upon his entry into politics, his anecdotes of his modest beginnings and his efforts at self-improvement positioned him as the “local boy makes good” who would go on to even greater achievements. Throughout his political career, the press would continue to emphasize the “American dream” aspect of Fong's accomplishments.
Fong was an early advocate of statehood for Hawaii, as a member of Statehood Committees in 1938 and 1947. He also testified at Washington hearings on statehood in 1950 and 1954. When Hawaii finally achieved statehood in 1959, Fong’s aspirations for the new state—as well as for his own career—would seem to make him a natural candidate for one of the first U.S. Senate seats from Hawaii. However, Fong was not assured of success. During the 1950s, the Democratic Party had come to dominate in Hawaii, an ascendancy that would last for the remainder of Fong’s political career. Further, Fong had doubts about the electability of a candidate of Asian descent, although he saw value in his simply making an attempt at the powerful position of senator. Recalling his motivations in his first Senate race, Fong later said, “I thought I’d just try for it. I wanted to see if someone of Chinese ancestry would have a chance and to ease the way for future generations of Asians who might want to try for it” (“The Days of Republicans and Roses,” MidWeek, Dec. 4, 2002).
Fong had always been proud of his Chinese heritage, from his rearing in a traditional Chinese family and his days studying Chinese at Mun Lun School. He was proud of the ethnic diversity of the partners of his law firm, Fong, Miho, Choy, and Robinson. He had long been a member of Chinese-American groups and was interested in the activities of the Fong clan association. Despite the relatively small size of the Chinese-American community in Hawaii, he was acutely aware of the importance of ethnic voting blocs in the state. When he won election to the U.S. Senate in 1959, he was, unsurprisingly, highly honored to be the first person of Asian ancestry to serve in that body. This distinction remained a point of pride throughout Fong’s career in the Senate, where he carved out a niche for himself as a spokesman for Chinese-Americans and as the “Man of the Pacific.”
During his tenure as senator, Fong took great interest in Sino-American relations and in the conflict between China and Taiwan. He also seemed to be viewed as one of the Senate’s resident experts on Pacific affairs, including American territories in the Pacific, and he traveled extensively in the region at various points in his career. He was proud of a personal relationship with Taiwan’s President Chiang Kai-Shek that dated from the mid-1950s and which endured until President Chiang’s death in 1975. At that time, Fong was chosen as a member of the delegation to the funeral in Taiwan. His eulogy, as well as other articles Fong authored on the Asian role in world affairs, were widely reprinted in Chinese newspapers and publications. Fong was admired in China for his personal success and his status as a United States senator who openly identified with his Chinese roots and the Chinese people. Throughout his career and even after his retirement, he was the recipient of numerous awards and honors from both Asian governments and Asian-American groups. Among these were the Gwanghwan Medal, a diplomatic recognition by the Republic of Korea; the Order of the Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon by the Republic of China; and the United States-Asian Institute Achievement Award (see Personal–Biography–80th Birthday Program; Legislative–Foreign Relations–China/Taiwan; Office–Trip Files).
Fong’s other abiding interest during his time in the Senate was in the status of Hawaii. He was anxious to gain for Hawaii its fair share of funding and recognition from the federal government, and “a wider role for Hawaii in national and international affairs.” Throughout his career, Fong was always ready to help local and state governments in navigating the federal bureaucracy. In addition, he supported both public and private groups in finding federal grant funding for a wide variety of projects, particularly those relating to public works projects such as dams and harbors (from “Highlights of U.S. Senator Hiram L. Fong’s Sixteen Years in Senate,” an office press release in the Public Relations series; Grants & Projects series; Committees–Public Works).
Fong was also a strong advocate for Hawaiian agriculture and trade. One of his most active concerns in the Senate was to maintain open lines of transportation and freight shipment for Hawaii. He worked to draw attention to Hawaii’s unique geographical isolation, and to protect it from problems caused by maritime and airline strikes and rising freight costs (see Legislative–Commerce–Freight Shipping; Legislative–Labor–Strikes–Shipping Strikes Affecting Hawaii; Legislative–Transportation).
In a 2002 profile, Fong cited among his greatest senatorial achievements the funding of the federal highways on Oahu and the development of the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii. The mission of the East-West Center to provide a center of learning and cooperation between the Eastern and Western worlds represents Fong’s greatest interests as senator.
On the whole, Fong seemed to have a deep sense of responsibility toward the fulfillment of his duties. In a 1964 interview, he attested to the hard work demanded by the Senate, and stated that any senator “must spend his free time building up his background of information. He must be knowledgeable about many things” (Honolulu Star-Bulletin/Advertiser profile, “From Shine Boy to Senator: The Busy Life of Hiram Fong,” Jan. 23, 1964). In addition, Fong’s attention to detail was apparent in his office management system, where he asked his staffers to maintain file cards for every constituent who contacted the office, whether for copies of publications, casework help, or on an issue; for every piece of legislation active in the Senate; and for every book available for reference in the Senate office. Fong’s handwriting is apparent throughout the incoming mail, showing that he read most of his own correspondence and directed the appropriate responses and filing. His work as a senator seems to have been highly involved and hands-on.
He also placed a great deal of emphasis on his work for his Senate committees, and tried to make his assignments meaningful ones: “The Civil Service Committee,” he noted in 1964, “is very important to the 27,000 Federal Civil Service employees in Hawaii …The Judiciary Committee handles about 40 percent of all the bills and resolutions in the Senate.” The Judiciary Committee also had jurisdiction over some of the issues that Fong felt most strongly about, such as immigration (particularly Asian immigration quotas) and the plight of refugees worldwide.
Fong was re-elected to the Senate twice, in 1964 and 1970. Due to his Republican affiliation, both races were close ones. However, he drew upon an elaborately planned get-out-the-vote system, which relied on the networks of personal relationships in Hawaii to garner support for his efforts. Fong was gratified by his election results in 1964, when he led Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s poor showing by 31.8 percentage points. His press release at the time noted that “no other victorious Senatorial candidate has run so far ahead of his Party’s national ticket in all the years since 1913, when statewide election of senators first began.” Fong proudly pointed to the fact that he had won against “formidable odds” without ever distancing himself from the national ticket (“An Historic Ticket Split,” Fong Press Release, Feb. 4, 1965). He was also pleased to play a national role at the Republican conventions of 1964 and 1968, where he was nominated as a favorite-son candidate on the early presidential ballots. As the State of Hawaii’s leading Republican, Fong seemed to feel a responsibility to help his party by working in gubernatorial and state legislature campaigns and by using his own contacts for the benefit of other candidates.
During much of his Senate career, Fong also had a powerful ally in national party affairs, due to his close affiliation with Richard M. Nixon. Fong’s friendship with Nixon originated in Fong’s first days in Washington, and he took charge of part of Nixon’s 1960 presidential campaign. Their relationship continued even after the Republican defeat in 1960; the collection contains a number of personal letters between the two throughout the 1960s and 1970s. When Nixon later achieved the presidency, Fong seemed to become somewhat more aligned with Nixon’s positions—a marked departure from his earlier, more liberal voting record. Fong’s strong support of Nixon could be seen across the board in most areas of policy, and remained unwavering even at the height of the Watergate scandal, when constituent mail ran heavily in favor of impeachment (see Party Politics–Nixon/Lodge Campaign; Office–Correspondence–VIP; Committees–Judiciary–Watergate).
In 1976, Fong decided not to run for re-election and to retire to Hawaii. He made plans to continue his work at Finance Factors, which had remained in the background for most of his Senate career, and to work on his farm in Kahaluu, which he envisioned as a tourist destination and a site for a library housing his Senate papers. His property eventually opened to the public as Senator Fong’s Plantation and Gardens. His anticipated library facility did not materialize, nor did the autobiography he contemplated writing for many years, but Fong’s ambition to memorialize his life and career demonstrates his pride in his achievements and his unique role as the first Asian-American United States senator, and as one of Hawaii’s statehood senators.
In order to give meaningful structure and organization to the papers, ten major series (in boldface CAPS) were devised for the collection. Indented are the subseries breakdowns, and in some cases, the sub-subseries if sorted to that level. (The Legislative Series was arranged to a finer degree as it is assumed to be of greatest interest to researchers.) The subseries and sub-subseries in parenthesis denote “unofficial” designations, i.e., those not written on the individual folder titles (they may be incorporated at some later point of continued processing). The See-Also notes are in italic typeface.
Series I: Legislative
Series II: Committees
Series III: Grants and Projects
Series IV: Casework
Series V: Party Politics
Series VI: Office
Series VII: Public Relations
Series VIII: Personal
Series IX: Memorabilia
Series X: Audiovisual
- Senator Hiram L. Fong Papers
- Dorothy M. Hazelrigg under the direction of Jan Zastrow
- August 26, 2003, updated March 15, 2006
- Description rules
- Language of description
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