Who Invented The ‘Ukulele?

Manuel Nunes ukulele inventor

Manuel Nunes invented the ‘ukulele (photo 1917)

In 1998, the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum inducted Manuel Nunes, one of three woodcraftsmen who had invented the ‘ukulele. Founded in 1996, the Museum is a non-profit organization with a mission to “document, preserve and promote the history of the ‘ukulele, its players, and makers, as well as to inspire and engage people everywhere in the perpetuation of the ‘ukulele and ‘ukulele music through performances and exhibits.”



1879 Nunes decal

Manuel Nunes decal on his ‘ukulele

On August 23, 1879, Manuel Nunes (1843-1922) arrived in Honolulu harbor, island of Oahu, aboard the ship Ravenscrag. He had emigrated from his home on Madeira, an island off Portugal. Nunes, Augusto Dias and Jose do Espirito Santo, brought with them the Madeiran machete that would be transformed into the Hawaiian ‘ukulele we know of today. Hawaiian King David Kalākaua popularized the new instrument, and soon everyone wanted to play it. Nunes “established himself as one of the earliest ‘ukulele makers and operated his manufacturing company for over 40 years, much longer than any other. Many of his handcrafted instruments bore the label M.Nunes, Inventor of the Ukulele and Taro Patch Fiddles in Honolulu in 1879.” Samuel Kamaka apprenticed with Nunes, and would later pass on the skills to his sons and his own company known for high quality ‘ukulele construction.




Manuel Nunes gravestone

Gravestone in Honolulu, 1997

Nunes died in 1922 and is buried in the King Street Cemetery in Honolulu. His gravestone reads:
Manuel Nunes
June 14, 1843
July 9, 1922.

Read more about the Ukulele Hall of Fame Museum and 1998 inductee Manuel Nunes.

Aloha, Mele Fong aka Ukulele Mele