Published online by Cambridge University Press: 04 August 2010
Guam, the southernmost of the Marianas, an archipelago consisting of a chain of 15 islands, is the largest island in the western Pacific. The Marianas are part of Micronesia, a group of Pacific islands that, in addition to the Marianas, consists of the Carolines, the Marshalls, and the Gilberts. Guam is a relatively small island measuring approximately 20 miles long and from 4 to 9 miles wide (total area, 212 square miles). Located at 13 degrees north of the equator, Guam is approximately 3500 miles west of Hawaii, 1500 miles south of Tokyo and 1500 east of Manila. Guam was obtained by the United States as a territorial possession in 1898, as part of the settlement of the Spanish–American War. In the early portion of the twentieth century, Guam served as valuable stopping off place for coal-burning steamships needing to take on fresh water and other vital supplies during their long ocean-going voyages. From a military perspective, Guam's strategic central location in the western Pacific was also important and the United States Navy administered the island from 1898 until 1950 (with the exception of the Japanese occupation during World War II). In 1950, the Organic Act of Guam was passed by the US Congress and gave the inhabitants of Guam United States citizenship. This law also gave the inhabitants of Guam the right to elect a local governor and island legislature, and to send a non-voting representative to the US Congress.