Hiram Fong

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Hiram Fong
Official portrait, c. 1964
United States Senator
from Hawaii
In office
August 21, 1959 – January 3, 1977
Preceded bySeat established
Succeeded bySpark Matsunaga
Speaker of the Hawaii House of Representatives
In office
Preceded byManuel Paschoal
Succeeded byCharles E. Kauhane
Member of the Hawaii House of Representatives
from the 5th district
In office
Personal details
Yau Leong Fong

(1906-10-15)October 15, 1906
Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii, U.S.
DiedAugust 18, 2004(2004-08-18) (aged 97)
Kahaluu, Hawaii, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Ellyn Lo
(m. 1938)
Children4; including Hiram Fong Jr.
EducationUniversity of Hawaii, Manoa (BA)
Harvard University (LLB)
OccupationBusinessman, lawyer, politician
Military service
AllegianceUnited States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1942–1945
Rank Major
Unit United States Army Air Forces
 • Seventh Air Force
Battles/warsWorld War II
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese鄺友良
Simplified Chinese邝友良

Hiram Leong Fong (born Yau Leong Fong;[1] October 15, 1906 – August 18, 2004) was an American businessman, lawyer, and politician from Hawaii. Born to a Cantonese immigrant sugar plantation worker, Fong became the first Chinese-American and first Asian-American United States Senator, serving from 1959 to 1977.[2]

At the 1964 Republican National Convention, Fong became the first Asian-American to receive delegate votes for his party's nomination for President of the United States. In the Senate, Fong supported civil rights legislation and eliminating ethnic barriers to immigration.[3] As of 2023, Fong is the only Republican to have ever served as a senator from Hawaii.

Early life and education[edit]

Fong was born in the Honolulu neighborhood of Kalihi on the island of Oahu as the seventh of 11 children.[4] His father, Fong Sau Howe, was of Cantonese origin (from modern day Zhuhai) and immigrated to Hawaii in 1872, along with nearly 45,000 other immigrants who would work on sugar plantations. Fong began working at age four picking beans for cattle feed, and by the age of seven was working as a shoeshiner.[5]

Fong attended local public schools and graduated from McKinley High School in 1924.[1] Masaji Marumoto, who went on to become the first Japanese-American Justice on the Supreme Court of Hawaii, was a classmate.[6] In 1930, Fong obtained a degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and in 1935 obtained a law degree from Harvard Law School.[7]

Early career[edit]

Legal and military career[edit]

After returning to Hawaii, Fong worked in the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney of Honolulu. In 1938, Fong went into private legal practice and founded the firm of Fong, Miho, Choy, and Robinson. In 1942, he changed his name to "Hiram",[1] reportedly in honor of Hiram Bingham I, an early Protestant missionary in Hawaii.[5]

During World War II, he served as a Major in the United States Army Air Forces as a Judge Advocate, later retiring as a colonel from the United States Air Force Reserve.[1][8]

Territorial politics[edit]

The same year he founded his law office, Fong entered elected political life as a member of the Hawaii Territorial House of Representatives where he became Speaker of the House from 1948 to 1954.[9] During this time, he was one of the foremost leaders in the fight to make Hawaii a state. As a territorial legislator, Fong was a delegate to the 1952 Republican National Convention.[10]

Fong was forced into retirement when the Democratic Party of Hawaii successfully ended a Hawaii Republican Party stronghold over the Hawaii Territorial Legislature by voting most Republican incumbents out of office. Fong founded several businesses after leaving the legislature.[1]

Early business ventures[edit]

In 1952, along with five other island families, Hiram Fong started Finance Factors, one of the first industrial and consumer loan companies, to service the growing numbers of minorities who were seeking to start new businesses and buy homes.[11]

United States Senate[edit]

Fong later in his career

After Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959, Fong became one of the state's first two U.S. Senators, serving alongside popular former Governor Oren E. Long, a Democrat.[12]

According to The Washington Post, Fong's political success can be partially attributed to the support he received from the powerful International Longshore and Warehouse Union.[3] In office, Fong was generally regarded as a moderate Republican, voting in favor of many of President Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society" initiatives, such as the establishment of Medicare in 1965.[13]

In the 1959 election, Fong won against Democrat Frank Fasi by a margin of 52.9 to 47.1%.[14] In 1964, Fong was reelected with 53% of the vote against Democrat Thomas Gill, who received 46.4%.[15] Fong was reelected again in 1970 by an even closer margin of 51.6 to 48.4% versus Democrat Cecil Heftel.[16] In 1976, Fong chose to retire rather than seek reelection, and was succeeded by Democrat Spark Matsunaga.[17]

President Richard Nixon greeting Senator Fong in 1972

Party politics[edit]

Fong was twice honored as Hawaii's favorite son at the Republican National Convention in 1964 and 1968.[18] In 1964, he became the first Asian American to receive votes for president at a major party convention, receiving the votes of the Hawaii and Alaska delegations.[19]

Fong was booed by an audience for defending George W. Romney, then-Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, in the wake of a real-estate industry scandal.[20]

In 1960, Richard Nixon remarked that "the American dream is not just a dream, it does come true – Hiram Fong's life proves it" during a visit to Hawaii.[21]

Civil rights and immigration[edit]

Fong voted in favor of the Civil Rights Acts of 1960,[22] 1964,[23] and 1968,[24] as well as the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution[25] Fong supported the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and wrote an amendment to have poll watchers safeguard the election process.[13] Additionally, Fong voted in favor the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall to the U.S. Supreme Court.[26]

In 1965, during debate on Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, Fong answered questions concerning the possible change in U.S. cultural patterns by an influx of Asians:

"Asians represent six-tenths of 1 percent of the population of the United States ... concerning Japan, we estimate that there will be a total for the first 5 years of some 5,391 ... the people from that part of the world will never reach 1 percent of the population ...Our cultural pattern will never be changed as far as America is concerned." (U.S. Senate, Subcommittee on Immigration and Naturalization of the Committee on the Judiciary, Washington, D.C., February 10, 1965, pp.71, 119.)[27]

Foreign policy[edit]

During Nixon's presidency, Fong was a vocal supporter of the Vietnam War, which reportedly left many Asian-American constituents displeased.[3] According to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Fong's support for the Vietnam War led to him losing votes in the 1970 election, his last reelection campaign.[28]

Personal life and legacy[edit]

Fong married Ellyn Lo in 1938; they had four children. After retiring from the Senate, Fong faced financial and legal difficulties, including several lawsuits with a son over the family's businesses that forced him and his wife to declare bankruptcy in 2003.[1] They managed a botanical garden of 725 acres (293 ha) that was opened to the public in 1988.[4]

On August 18, 2004, Hiram Fong died of kidney failure at his home in Honolulu; he was the last living former U.S. senator born in the 1900s decade.[29]

Fong was a Congregationalist and was buried in Nuuanu Memorial Park and Mortuary.[30]


Fong's papers were donated to the University of Hawaii at Manoa Library in August 1998. Fong also provided financial support to the preservation and inventorying of over a thousand boxes, crates, and trunks of documents. Within them included papers, photos, videos, and memorabilia from Fong's congressional tenure and pre-political life, including law-school notes.[9] Included in the collection are series of Washington, D.C., and Hawaii office files, Post Office and Civil Service Committee (POCS) materials, and political souvenirs.

Approximately 80 boxes of books accompanied Fong's papers, several dedicated his work on Senate committees such as the POCS. A few of the books were kept with the congressional collection, though the majority were added to the university library. A gift book plate was designed for these incorporating the senator's noted signature.[9] The papers were processed in 2003 by archivist Dee Hazelrigg, and are available to researchers by appointment.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Nakaso, Dan (August 18, 2004). "Hiram Fong dead at 97". Honolulu Advertiser. Archived from the original on September 10, 2004. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
  2. ^ Bernstein, Adam (August 19, 2004). "Hiram Fong Dies; One of First Hawaiian Senators". The Washington Post. p. B6. Archived from the original on May 25, 2017. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Bernstein, Adam (August 19, 2004). "Hiram Fong Dies". The Washington Post.
  4. ^ a b Biographical sketch senatorfong.com
  5. ^ a b "Hiram Fong, first Asian U.S. senator, dead at 97". NBC News. August 18, 2004. Retrieved March 8, 2022.
  6. ^ "Hung Wai Ching". Japanese American Veterans Association. Retrieved March 9, 2022.
  7. ^ "Hiram L. Fong Papers – University of Hawaii Manoa Library Website". Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  8. ^ "Fong Garden biography". Archived from the original on May 24, 2010. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  9. ^ a b c d "Hiram L. Fong Papers – University of Hawaii Manoa Library Website". Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  10. ^ December 20; Brooks, 2019 | Charlotte. "Numbed with Fear: Chinese Americans and McCarthyism | American Experience | PBS". www.pbs.org. Retrieved March 8, 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ "Senator Hiram L. Fong – first Asian American to serve in the United States Senate". www.senatorfong.com. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  12. ^ Arakawa, Linda (August 19, 2004). "First Asian in U.S. Senate broke barriers". The Honolulu Advertiser. Archived from the original on September 19, 2004. Retrieved July 20, 2019.
  13. ^ a b "FONG, Hiram Leong | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". history.house.gov. Retrieved March 8, 2022.
  14. ^ "Our Campaigns – HI US Senate Race – Jul 28, 1959". www.ourcampaigns.com. Retrieved June 18, 2020.
  15. ^ "Our Campaigns – HI US Senate Race – Nov 03, 1964". www.ourcampaigns.com.
  16. ^ "Our Campaigns – HI US Senate Race – Nov 03, 1970".
  17. ^ "Our Campaigns - HI US Senate Race - Nov 02, 1976". www.ourcampaigns.com. Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  18. ^ Senator Hiram Fong Exhibit Archived September 18, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, Hawaii Congressional Papers Collection, University of Hawaii.
  19. ^ "Senator Hiram L. Fong – first Asian American to serve in the United States Senate". senatorfong.com. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  20. ^ Asbury, Edith (May 2, 1972). "Senators Told of 'Blockbusting' In a Financial Conspiracy Here" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  21. ^ "Remarks of Vice President Nixon, Kamehameha Shopping Center, Honolulu, HI | The American Presidency Project". www.presidency.ucsb.edu. Retrieved March 15, 2023.
  22. ^ "HR. 8601. PASSAGE OF AMENDED BILL. – Senate Vote #284 – Apr 8, 1960". GovTrack.us. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  23. ^ "HR. 7152. PASSAGE. – Senate Vote #409 – Jun 19, 1964". GovTrack.us. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  24. ^ "TO PASS H.R. 2516, A BILL TO PROHIBIT DISCRIMINATION IN ... – Senate Vote #346 – Mar 11, 1968". GovTrack.us. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  27. ^ "The Legacy of the 1965 Immigration Act". CIS.org. September 1995. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  28. ^ Apgar, Sally (August 19, 2004). "Hawaii Icon – The senator's rich life mirrored the ambitions of a brash young state". Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Retrieved March 10, 2022.
  29. ^ Bernstein, Adam (August 19, 2004). "Hiram Fong Dies". washingtonpost.com. Retrieved March 27, 2022.
  30. ^ United States Congress. "Hiram Fong (id: F000245)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
First Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Hawaii
(Class 1)

1959, 1964, 1970
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
New seat U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Hawaii
Served alongside: Oren Long, Daniel Inouye
Succeeded by
Preceded by Ranking Member of the Senate Post Office and Civil Service Committee
Position abolished
Honorary titles
Preceded by Oldest living United States senator
(Sitting or former)

Succeeded by