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Book Review:

Firsts and Almost Firsts in Hawai‘i


Compiled by Robert C. Schmitt, Edited by Ronn Ronck
University of Hawai‘i Press, Honolulu, Hawaii, 1995


Robert C. Schmitt enjoyed a long career as Hawai‘i’s first state statistician. He has written or co-written several books and has published hundreds of articles in professional journals.

As one might imagine, Bob had an unprecedented array of facts at his disposal. Bob kept most of these facts in his head and could recall this information upon request. It can be stated without hesitation that Bob possessed a photographic memory. With this thought in mind, there is a logical reason why Bob would write articles and books present interesting data that dealt with a diverse selection of topics all having the common thread that they pertained to Hawai‘i.

Clearly, one of the most successful of these books was one that he collaborated on with writer and journalist Ronn Ronck for the University of Hawai‘i Press titled Firsts and Almost Firsts in Hawai‘i. It neatly capsulized many of the questions that Schmitt had been asked over the years in an easily read lay format – arguably, a must for all persons interested in Hawai‘i to read and have access to. To the greatest possible degree, that was Bob’s gift to his adopted home – to present statistical information in an enjoyable way that could be absorbed and appreciated by a multi- dimensional audience.

It can be said, without question, that Firsts and Almost Firsts in Hawai‘i reflects these priorities. Schmitt’s compelling presentation of statistical facts allowed him to engage his readers on a personal level. He would select a particular subject and provide enough detail to be absorbing but not so much information as to be overwhelming. One such example of this is identified in his citation under the category of Books:

“The first book published in the islands was a sixty-page hymnal, Na Himeni Hawaii, prepared by William Ellis and Hiram Bingham. Issued in October 1823, it contained the lyrics to forty-seven songs, many of them original.

The earliest illustrated book, He Ninau Hoike no ka mooolelo o ka Palapala Hemolele (A historical catechism of the Holy Scriptures) included three simple woodcuts by Bingham that depicted Noah’s Ark, the Tower of Babel, and Sodom and Gomorrah. Although dated 1830, this book was not completed until March 1831. Day and Loomis (1973): 12; Forbes (1992b): 52.”

The legacy and memory of Robert C. “Bob” Schmitt, historian and distinguished statistician for the State of Hawai‘i, was honored by Governor Linda Lingle and Lieutenant Governor James R. “Duke” Aiona Jr. in a proclamation dated November 9, 2007 – proclaiming that day ‘Bob Schmitt Day’ in Hawai‘i. This special recognition was a tribute to the storied career of the only person to hold the official title of State Statistician, which was conferred on him many years earlier in 1963 by then Governor John A. Burns.Those who knew Bob personally and appreciated his prowess will miss his unique facility to communicate a diverse overview of statistical data, which greatly assists in telling the story of Hawai‘i and its people.

Peter Salter
Research Historian