Inside the Collection

The Ukulele Craze

Small wooden ukulele 1930

Recently ukuleles have been undergoing quite a revival with ukulele clubs and festivals springing up all over the world (there are at least seven clubs in Sydney). But Hawaiian music and ukuleles were very popular in Australia during the 1920s and 1930s and remained so until the 1950s. This ukulele from our collection was made in Hawaii in the 1930s by Jonah Kumalae, a prolific and famous maker who is credited with creating the first ukulele craze when his ukuleles were exhibited at the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.

Hawaiian Quintet playing ukuleles

The Hawaiian Pavilion was one of the most popular with the millions visitors who attended this phenomenally popular fair. Amongst the other displays visitors were treated to music from the Hawaiian Quintet (pictured above) led by Henry Kailimai. One reporter apparently described the music as “weird, unworldly melodies that seem to rise and fall on the long swells of the Pacific….” Kumalae received a Gold Award and afterwards his ukuleles all carried the mark ‘Kumalae Gold Award P.P.I.E. 1915 Hawaii’ on the headstock.

Detail of 'Kumalae Gold Award'

And its not hard to imagine the impact that hula girls (who also appeared in the Hawaiian Pavillion) had in 1915!

Hula girls playing ukuleles

One response to “The Ukulele Craze

  • Hi my name is Trevor and i own a kumalea 1915 gold award Ukuele it is in good playing condition, with no damage, what is the value of one of these?? Its 101 years old.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.