Baker Island is an island in the central Pacific Ocean, situated near the Equator. Its closest neighbor, Howland Island, is located 42 miles (68 km) north-northwest. Baker Island is an unorganized, unincorporated territory of the United States, and is part of the United States Minor Outlying Islands. The island is relatively small, covering a total area of only 2.1 km2, and experiences an equatorial climate, with little rainfall, intense sunshine, and constant winds. Despite its status as an unincorporated territory, Baker Island has historically served as an important US military base. The island is currently part of Baker Island National Wildlife Refuge, which was established in 1974 and expanded in 2009.
Baker Island was first discovered in 1818 by American Elisha Folger, captain of Equator, a Nantucket whaling ship, who named the island New Nantucket. However, the island was later renamed after Michael Baker, who visited the island in 1834, and later claimed ownership in 1855. Baker sold the island to the American Guano Company, but full ownership of the island was claimed by the United States in 1857, as part of the Guano Islands Act of 1856. At that time, Baker Island was rich in guano, which was used to produce fertilizer, and the American Guano Company mined guano deposits on the island from 1859 until 1878. After guano deposits on the island were exhausted, the US had little interest in Baker Island.
In 1886, British-based John T. Arundel & Co., which also mined guano, purchased Baker Island from the American Guano Company and established headquarters on the island. From 1897 to 1936, Baker Island was considered by the United Kingdom to be part of the British Empire.
Military Base and Airfield
When the United States began expanding its military bases in the 1930s, Baker Island was recognized as an ideal location to create a new military base, and therefore the US colonized the island. By 1936, the island was administered by the US Department of the Interior, which attempted to develop the island and introduce agriculture as part of the American Equatorial Islands Colonization Project. However, civilians were evacuated from Baker Island in 1942 following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, but the island remained occupied as a military base.
During the Second World War, the US military established defensive forces on Baker Island in 1943, as part of the Pacific War. The US military secured the island and created an airfield that served as a staging base for the Seventh Air Force B-24 Liberator bombers. However, the airfield was short-lived and was abandoned in 1944.
Despite previous settlements, Baker Island lacks natural freshwater sources. The island is also treeless, with scarce vegetation that primary consists of grass. Therefore, the island is primarily inhibited by marine wildlife, seabirds, and shorebirds. Baker Island is currently uninhabited, although it is visited by scientists, and public visitation requires a permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.