The ukulele (Hawaiian for “jumping flea”) is a small, plucked string instrument largely associated with Hawaii, but that is not where the instrument was born. Instead, it was brought over from the island of Madeira off the coast of northwest Africa in the 1870’s by Portuguese immigrants. Three Madeiran cabinetmakers arrived in Hawaii in 1879 and soon started making what we now know as ukuleles. By 1885 they were advertising them and other instruments they were making for sale.
The ukulele was introduced to the mainland United States in 1893 at the World’s Exposition in Chicago. After that, small groups of Hawaiian musicians toured the United States to play at fairs and exhibitions. Some landed in the vaudeville circuits. The ukulele first found its strongest success on the West Coast and was a popular seller for music stores in Los Angeles and San Francisco. The 1915 Panama Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco served to make them even more popular.
Ukuleles were the “it” instrument in the 1910s and 1920s, and they got another bump of popularity in the late 1940s and 1950s. The library has songbooks from those times of earlier popularity. While those may only be used in the library, they are worth looking at if your love for the instrument and its history is strong. Ukuleles are hot once again.