ANNEXATION BY CHILE
A Scots Chilean company, Williamson Balfour, was the "owner" of the company and in 1903 they created a subsidiary, The Easter Island Exploitation Company. All the island outside of Hangaroa village was given over to the commercial production of wool and animal byproducts. These activities made radical changes in the vegetation of the island as well as on the archaeological sites some of which were destroyed to obtain rock for sheep pens and other structures. Successive Chilean governments continued to contract with the Company which controlled every part of island life, from employment to the food supply. Reports in Chilean newspapers described the pitiful plight of the Rapa Nui who often were clad in rags and lacked such essentials as soap. Supply ships came infrequently and irregularly. At one point, desperate islanders petitioned the government to allow them all to emigrate to Tahiti. Reports of the miserable conditions on the island were verified by Bishop Edwards who came to study the problem of leprosy in 1916. Edwards' ensuing 'crusade' brought some changes but, in general, things were the same on the island into the 1950s.
Instead of renewing the sheep company's contract, in 1953 Chile appointed the Navy to oversee the island. This was not a happy time for the islanders who continued to be confined to the village. Navy rule proved to be much harsher than that of the former sheep ranchers, for they had the manpower and means to enforce their rigid rules. From 1944 to 1958 forty one Rapa Nui tried to escape their island 'prison' in open fishing boats. Some made it to the Tuamotus; at least half disappeared at sea.
But at this time, interest in the island's archaeology brought the Norwegian Archaeological Expedition to the island, followed by restoration projects and systematic surveys begun by William Mulloy, one of the members of the Norwegian Expedition. These projects awakened Chilean authorities to the possibility of attracting tourists to the island and also opened new vistas for islanders.
By 1966, many Rapa Nui had been to continental Chile for schooling or for economic reasons and had become aware of what life was like, outside the island. A revolt by the islanders eventually resulted in Easter Island receiving the status of a civil department and a municipal constitution. Once Civil Law arrived on the island, civil servants from Chile came and this influx greatly influenced the Rapa Nui lifestyle and the economic situation. The most significant changes after 1965 resulted from construction of an airfield and subsequent regular air communication with the outside world. For the first time, tourists and scholars were able to reach this isolated island with relative ease. To meet the demand, hotels, restaurants, and gift shops sprung up and islanders found many economic opportunities in relation to tourism.