In 1899, the United States annexed Wake Island to serve as a cable station and coaling stop for ships on their way from ports along the West Coast to Japan. The purpose of this annexation was to give business interests and missionary groups greater access to Asia.
In the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, President William McKinley pursued a course towards empire for the American government. This included the annexation of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands, as well as Wake Island. The actual "island" consists of an atoll with three smaller islands (Wiles, Peale and Wake) around a lagoon in the center.
In 1935, Pan American Airways constructed PAAVille, a small town designed to provide service for flights heading from the United States to China. All of the water and food for this settlement came from the American mainland, and the settlement ran until the Japanese attacked at the beginning of World War II. In January 1941, based on the alliance between the Germans and Japanese, the U.S. Navy established a base on Wake Island.
The Japanese captured Wake Island in December 1941 and controlled it until the Americans retook it near the end of the war. Commercial and military aircraft still use the atoll as a place to stop and refuel while heading from the United States to Pacific destinations.