Wake Island memorial to 98 civilian contractors killed by Japanese soldiers during their occupation of the island in World War II. Photo courtesy of the US Air Force.
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Wake Island was probably visited by Micronesian and Polynesian settlers, and oral legends tell of periodic voyages to the islands by people from the Marshall Islands. Wake Island was uninhabited when Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana de NEYRA became the first European to see it in 1568 and still had no humans when English captain Samuel WAKE sailed by it in 1796. The United States Exploring Expedition visited the island in 1841 and the US annexed it in 1899 to use as a cable and refueling station between its newly acquired Pacific territories of Hawaii and the Philippines and Guam. In the 1930s, Pan-American Airways built facilities on Wake Island so that it could be used as a stopover for flights from the US to China. In January 1941, the US began to install military assets on Wake Island and in early December of that year, Japan attacked Wake Island, capturing it by the end of the month after a heroic resistance. Japan held Wake Island until the end of World War II, and in 1946, commercial airlines once again used Wake Island as a refueling stop.

In 1973, the Marshall Islands claimed Wake Island based on the oral legends, although the US has not recognized these claims. In 1974, the US military took exclusive control of the island’s airstrip and restricted visitors. In 1978, Bikini Islanders from the Marshall Islands, who were evacuated in the 1950s and 1960s because of US nuclear tests, considered rehoming on Wake Island, but the US military rejected that plan. Since the 1970s, the island has been important for missile defense testing. In 2009, Wake Island was included in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Visit the Definitions and Notes page to view a description of each topic.



Oceania, atoll in the North Pacific Ocean, about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to the Northern Mariana Islands

Geographic coordinates

19 17 N, 166 39 E


total: 7 sq km

land: 6.5 sq km

water: 0 sq km

country comparison to the world: 245

Area - comparative

about 11 times the size of the National Mall in Washington, DC

Land boundaries

total: 0 km


19.3 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm




atoll of three low coral islands, Peale, Wake, and Wilkes, built up on an underwater volcano; central lagoon is former crater, islands are part of the rim


highest point: unnamed location 8 m

lowest point: Pacific Ocean 0 m

Land use

agricultural land: 0% (2018 est.)

other: 100% (2018 est.)

Irrigated land

0 sq km (2012)

Natural hazards

subject to occasional typhoons

Geography - note

strategic location in the North Pacific Ocean; emergency landing location for transpacific flights

People and Society


no indigenous inhabitants (2018 est.)

note: approximately 100 military personnel and civilian contractors maintain and operate the airfield and communications facilities

Age structure

0-14 years: NA

15-24 years: NA

25-54 years: NA

55-64 years: NA

65 years and over: NA

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: NA

youth dependency ratio: NA

elderly dependency ratio: NA

potential support ratio: NA

Drinking water source

improved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: NA

unimproved: urban: NA

rural: NA

total: NA


Environment - current issues

potable water obtained through a catchment rainwater system and a desalinization plant for brackish ground water; hazardous wastes moved to an accumulation site for storage and eventual transport off site via barge



Land use

agricultural land: 0% (2018 est.)

other: 100% (2018 est.)


Country name

conventional long form: none

conventional short form: Wake Island

etymology: although first discovered by British Captain William WAKE in 1792, the island is named after British Captain Samuel WAKE, who rediscovered the island in 1796

Dependency status

unincorporated unorganized territory of the US; administered from Washington, DC, by the Department of the Interior; activities in the atoll are currently conducted by the 11th US Air Force and managed from Pacific Air Force Support Center


none (territory of the US)

Legal system

US common law


see United States

Flag description

the flag of the US is used


Economic overview

Economic activity is limited to providing services to military personnel and contractors located on the island. All food and manufactured goods must be imported.


Electricity access

electrification - total population: 100% (2020)


Telecommunication systems

general assessment: satellite communications; 2 Defense Switched Network circuits off the Overseas Telephone System (OTS); located in the Hawaii area code - 808 (2018)

Broadcast media

American Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) provides satellite radio/TV broadcasts (2018)


Airports - with paved runways

total: 1

2,438 to 3,047 m: 1 (2019)

Ports and terminals

none; two offshore anchorages for large ships

Transportation - note

there are no commercial or civilian flights to and from Wake Island, except in direct support of island missions; emergency landing is available

Military and Security

Military - note

defense is the responsibility of the US; the US Air Force is responsible for overall administration and operation of the island facilities; the launch support facility is administered by the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA)

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

claimed by Marshall Islands