The ukulele is commonly associated with
music from Hawaii where the name roughly translates as "jumping flea",
 perhaps because of the movement of the player's fingers. Legend attributes it to the nickname of the Englishman
Edward William Purvis, one of King
Kalākaua's officers, because of his small size, fidgety manner, and playing expertise. One of the earliest appearances of the word ukulele in print (in the sense of a stringed instrument) is in the
Metropolitan Museum of Art's Catalogue of the Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments of All Nations published in 1907. The catalog describes two ukuleles from Hawaii: one that is similar in size to a modern soprano ukulele, and one that is similar to a tenor (see
§ Types and sizes).
Developed in the 1880s, the ukulele is based on several small guitar-like instruments of Portuguese origin, the machete,
timple, and the
rajão, introduced to the Hawaiian Islands by
Portuguese immigrants from
 Three immigrants in particular,
Madeiran cabinet makers Manuel Nunes, José do Espírito Santo, and Augusto Dias, are generally credited as the first ukulele makers.
 Two weeks after they disembarked from the
SS Ravenscrag in late August 1879, the
Hawaiian Gazette reported that "Madeira Islanders recently arrived here, have been delighting the people with nightly street concerts."
One of the most important factors in establishing the ukulele in Hawaiian music and culture was the ardent support and promotion of the instrument by King
Kalākaua. A patron of the arts, he incorporated it into performances at royal gatherings.
In the 1960s, educator
J. Chalmers Doane dramatically changed school music programs across
Canada, using the ukulele as an inexpensive and practical teaching instrument to foster
musical literacy in the classroom.
 50,000 schoolchildren and adults learned ukulele through the Doane program at its peak.
 Today, a revised program created by
James Hill and J. Chalmers Doane continues to be a staple of music education in Canada.
The ukulele came to
Japan in 1929 after Hawaiian-born
Yukihiko Haida returned to the country upon his father's death and introduced the instrument. Haida and his brother Katsuhiko formed the Moana Glee Club, enjoying rapid success in an environment of growing enthusiasm for Western popular music, particularly Hawaiian and jazz. During
World War II, authorities banned most Western music, but fans and players kept it alive in secret, and it resumed popularity after the war. In 1959, Haida founded the
Nihon Ukulele Association. Today, Japan is considered a second home for Hawaiian musicians and ukulele virtuosos.
The singer and comedian
George Formby was perhaps the UK's most famous ukulele player, though he often played a
banjolele, a hybrid instrument consisting of an extended ukulele neck with a
banjo resonator body. Demand surged in the new century because of its relative simplicity and portability.
 Another famous British artist was
Tony Award winner
Tessie O'Shea, who appeared in numerous movies and stage shows, and was twice on
The Ed Sullivan Show, including the night
The Beatles debuted in 1964.
 The ukulele's popularity in Britain continues to grow with the
Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain touring globally, the
George Formby Society (GFS - established in 1961) holding regular conventions, the establishment of dedicated ukulele groups and festivals across the UK,
Paul McCartney's 2002 tribute tour to
George Harrison (a huge fan of the instrument and a member of the GFS), and many British ukulele enthusiasts sharing their music internationally on YouTube.
United States mainland
Pre World War II
The ukulele was popularized for a stateside audience during the
Panama–Pacific International Exposition, held from spring to fall of 1915 in
 The Hawaiian Pavilion featured a guitar and ukulele ensemble, George E. K. Awai and his Royal Hawaiian Quartet,
 along with ukulele maker and player
 The popularity of the ensemble with visitors launched a fad for Hawaiian-themed songs among
Tin Pan Alley
 The ensemble also introduced both the
lap steel guitar and the ukulele into U.S. mainland popular music,
 where it was taken up by
vaudeville performers such as
Roy Smeck and
Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards. On April 15, 1923 at the Rivoli Theater in
New York City, Smeck appeared, playing the ukulele, in Stringed Harmony, a
short film made in the
sound-on-film process. On August 6, 1926, Smeck appeared playing the ukulele in a short film His Pastimes, made in the
sound-on-disc process, shown with the
Don Juan starring
The ukulele soon became an icon of the
 Like guitar, basic ukulele skills can be learned fairly easily, and this highly portable, relatively inexpensive instrument was popular with amateur players throughout the 1920s, as evidenced by the introduction of uke chord
tablature into the published
sheet music for popular songs of the time,
 (a role that would be supplanted by the guitar in the early years of
rock and roll).
 A number of mainland-based stringed-instrument manufacturers, among them
Harmony, and especially
Martin added ukulele,
tiple lines to their production to take advantage of the demand.
The ukulele also made inroads into early country music or
 parallel to the then popular mandolin. It was played by
Jimmie Rodgers and
Ernest V. Stoneman, as well as by early string bands, including
Cowan Powers and his Family Band, Da Costa Woltz's Southern Broadcasters, Walter Smith and Friends, The Blankenship Family, The Hillbillies, and The Hilltop Singers.
Post World War II
and holding a Maccaferri "Islander" plastic ukulele
From the late 1940s to the late 1960s, plastics manufacturer
Mario Maccaferri turned out about 9 million inexpensive ukuleles.
 The ukulele continued to be popular, appearing on many jazz songs throughout the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
 Much of the instrument's popularity (particularly the baritone size) was cultivated via
The Arthur Godfrey Show on television.
Tiny Tim became closely associated with the instrument after playing it on his 1968 hit "
Tiptoe Through the Tulips."
Post 1990 revival
After the 1960s, the ukulele declined in popularity until the late 1990s, when interest in the instrument reappeared.
 During the 1990s, new manufacturers began producing ukuleles and a new generation of musicians took up the instrument.
Jim Beloff set out to promote the instrument in the early 1990s and created over two dozen ukulele music books featuring modern music as well as classic ukulele pieces.
All-time best selling Hawaiian musician
Israel Kamakawiwo'ole helped re-popularise the instrument, in particular with his 1993
medley of "
Over the Rainbow" and "
What a Wonderful World," used in films, television programs, and commercials. The song reached no. 12 on Billboard's
Hot Digital Tracks chart the week of January 31, 2004 (for the survey week ending January 18, 2004).
The creation of YouTube was a large influence on the popularity of the ukulele. One of the first videos to go viral was
Jake Shimabukuro's ukulele rendition of
George Harrison's "
While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on
YouTube. The video quickly went
viral, and as of December 2016, had received over 15 million views.