The island is about 20 km (12.5 mi) long and 9 km (5.5 mi) wide, and its highest point is the extinct volcano Mount Tapochau at 474 m (1,554 ft). Saipan is located at 15° 15' north latitude and 145° 45' west longitude, about 200 km (120 mi) north of Guam.
The western side of the island has beaches and a coral reef, while the eastern side is mostly rugged rocky cliffs.
Spain originally claimed Saipan as part of the Marianas. Around 1815 many Carolineans from atolls near Truk settled in Saipan. Saipain was under German rule from 1899 to 1914, when the Japanese took over the island. The Japanese developed both fishing and sugar industries, and in the 1930s garrisoned Saipan heavily, with nearly 30,000 military on the island by 1941.
During World War II, the US Marines landed 15 June 1944 on the beaches of southwestern side of Saipan, and spent more than three weeks in hard fighting to secure the island. Navajo codetalkers played a key role in directing naval gunfire onto Japanese positions; the 2002 movie Windtalkers depicts the battle (however, the Saipan scenes were actually filmed in Hawaii and southern California).
Despite its status as a US territorial island, Saipan like the other Northern Marianas is exempt from some federal laws, including key labor and immigration laws. In consequence a number of factories have been set up one the island to supply the US market, and wages are routinely around half the US minimum wage. In January 1999 a coalition of US-based pressure groups and labor unions began a class action on behalf of around 30000 garment workers whom they claimed had been mistreated in such factories, being submitted what was in effect indentured labor. In April 2003 a settlement worth $20 million was reached with 27 garment manufacturers and 27 leading retailers, such as Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, and Polo Ralph Lauren. The firm of Levi Strauss & Co however refused to settle, and in January 2004 the case against this company was dismissed.