Both the US and the Kingdom of Hawaii annexed Johnston Atoll in 1858, but it was the US that mined the guano deposits until the late 1880s. Johnston and Sand Islands were designated wildlife refuges in 1926. The US Navy took over the atoll in 1934, and subsequently the US Air Force assumed control in 1948. The site was used for high-altitude nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1960s, and until late in 2000 the atoll was maintained as a storage and disposal site for chemical weapons. Munitions destruction is now complete. Cleanup and closure of the facility completed in 2004.
In 1796, Johnston Island, the atoll's major island, was sighted by the American Brig "Sally" of Boston. The island was named for Captain James Johnston who claimed its official discovery on December 10, 1807. The United States and the Kingdom of Hawaii both annexed the island in1858. Johnston Island was annexed into the United States as a guano island under the Guano Act of 1856.
A large amount of guano was removed from the atoll between the late 1850's and the early1900's. However, until 1936, the atoll was uninhabited except for visits by guano miners and military personnel.
On July 29, 1926, by Executive Order 4467, President Coolidge established the Johnston Atoll as a Federal bird refuge and placed it under the control of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On December 29, 1934, Executive Order 6935 transferred control of Johnston Atoll to the U.S. Navy to establish an air station and also to the Department of the Interior toad minister the bird refuge. In 1936, the U.S. Navy began developing a seaplane base, an airstrip and refueling facilities on the atoll. These served as an important link between Hawaii and the western Pacific during the Second World War. The atoll was fortified during the war and used as a supply point for submarines.
The Secretary of the Navy agreed to transfer operational control of Johnston Atoll to the U.S. Air Force on July 1, 1948, to be used as nuclear testing. The Department of the Air Force signed an agreement with the Defense Nuclear Agency (DNA) on July 1, 1973, to administer host-management of the island.
Johnston Atoll is an unorganized, unincorporated territory of the United States. It was designated as a Naval Defensive Sea Area and Airspace Reservation on February 14, 1941, by Executive Order 8682. An Air Force memorandum of understanding of May 30, 1973, transferred host management to the DNA. On June 22, 1973, DNA now called Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) took responsibility for the operational control of Johnston Atoll.
Use of the facilities by DTRA is covered by an U.S. Air Force permit. The Loran station at Johnston Atoll is closed. No local government exists. The resident military commander of Johnston Island acts as the atoll's civil administrator for the Defense Nuclear Agency.
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