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- a state in the US that is comprised of a group of islands in the North Pacific Ocean, about 3,000 miles (4,830 km) west of mainland US; population 1,288,198 (est. 2008); capital, Honolulu (on Oahu); statehood, Aug. 21, 1959 (50). First settled by Polynesians, Hawaii was discovered by Captain James Cook in 1778. It was annexed by the US in 1898 and is a popular vacation destination. Former name Sandwich Islands.