Photos of Wake Island



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 human inhabitants 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, 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. In early December of that year, Japan captured the island and held it until the end of World War II.  In 1946, commercial airlines resumed using 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

comparison ranking: total 244

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 (2022)

Natural hazards

subject to occasional typhoons

Geography - note

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

People and Society


(2018 est.) no indigenous inhabitants

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

Age structure

0-14 years: NA

15-64 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


Electricity access

electrification - total population: 100% (2021)


installed generating capacity: 0 kW (2020 est.)

consumption: 0 kWh (2020 est.)

exports: 0 kWh (2020 est.)

imports: 0 kWh (2020 est.)

transmission/distribution losses: 0 kWh (2019 est.)

comparison rankings: imports 206; exports 206; consumption 211; installed generating capacity 213; transmission/distribution losses 3


production: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

consumption: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

exports: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

imports: 0 metric tons (2020 est.)

proven reserves: 0 metric tons (2019 est.)


total petroleum production: 0 bbl/day (2021 est.)

refined petroleum consumption: 9,500 bbl/day (2019 est.)

crude oil and lease condensate exports: 0 bbl/day (2018 est.)

crude oil and lease condensate imports: 0 bbl/day (2018 est.)

crude oil estimated reserves: 0 barrels (2021 est.)

Natural gas

production: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

consumption: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

exports: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

imports: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

proven reserves: 0 cubic meters (2021 est.)

Carbon dioxide emissions

1.275 million metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from coal and metallurgical coke: 0 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from petroleum and other liquids: 1.275 million metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

from consumed natural gas: 0 metric tonnes of CO2 (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: total emissions 167

Energy consumption per capita

0 Btu/person (2019 est.)

comparison ranking: 200


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) (2018)

Broadcast media

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



1 (2024)

comparison ranking: 225

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

US-Marshall Islands: in May 2016, the Marshall Islands filed a declaration of authority with the UN over Wake Island, which is currently a US territory, reaffirming that it considers Wake Island part of its territory (the Marshall Islands refer to Wake as Enen Kio or Eneen Kio, meaning Island of the Kio Flower); control over Wake Island would drastically increase the Marshall Islands’ exclusive economic zone