Alaska is a state of the United States in extreme northwest North America including the Aleutian Islands and Alexander Archipelago. It is separated from the other mainland states by British Columbia, Canada. Alaska was admitted as the 49th state in 1959 and is the largest state of the Union. The territory was purchased from Russia in 1867 for $7,200,000 and was known as Seward's Folly (after Secretary of State William H. Seward, who negotiated the purchase) until gold was discovered in the late 1800s. Juneau is the capital and Anchorage the largest city. Population: 663,000.
Vitus Bering, a Dane working for the Russians, and Alexei Chirikov discovered the Alaskan mainland and the Aleutian Islands in 1741. Bering died from scurvy later that winter on an island named after him, Bering Island.
Around this time the British, Spanish, and French were exploring the coast of Alaska. The unregulated exploitation of the fur resources by rival companies led to a depletion of accessible fur areas and the killing and enslavement of the peaceful Aleut natives. Consequently, this led to the chartering of the Russian American Company in 1799. Under its first manager, Alexander Baranov, which was a period of about 20 years, there was an order and systematic exploitation of the fur resources. In 1804, the settlement of Sitka was attacked and held by the Tlingit Indians. The Russians use a combined naval-military operation to force the natives out. Later, in 1805, the Tlingit Indians killed all of the Russian residents that were living at present day Yakutat. The cost of administering the Alaska territory put a significant drain on the Russian homeland. This cost and the disappearance of the sea otter and fur trade brought about the Russians trying to interest the United States in purchasing Alaska in 1859.
The tremendous land mass of Alaska—equal to one-fifth of the continental U.S. was still unexplored in 1867. And with the Civil War, the purchase was not completed until March 30, 1867 when the Treaty of Purchase was signed in Washington DC , affirmed by the Senate on April 9th, and signed by President Andrew Johnson on May 28th. The formal transfer of the Territory was made at Sitka on October 18, 1867. The purchase price was $7,200,000.00. Shortly afterwards, despite a price of about two cents an acre, the purchase was widely ridiculed as “Seward's Folly.” The first official census (1880) reported a total of 33,426 Alaskans, all but 430 being of aboriginal stock.
From 1867 until 1898 the US neglected the administration of the Territory. In 1896 the discovery of gold in the Yukon Territory of Canada fired the imagination of the world. The Gold Rush of 1898 resulted in a mass influx of more than 30,000 people. This brought thousands of gold seekers through Alaska on their way to the gold fields. Another strike was found in Nome, several in the Interior of Alaska along the Yukon River. The last major discovery brought Fairbanks into being in 1902. With the vast influx of people into Alaska, Congress had to apply Civil Codes and establish laws in the Territory. In 1902 the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve was created which became the Tongass National Forest in 1907. Since then, Alaska has contributed billions of dollars' worth of products to the US economy.
Alaska gained Territorial status with the United States Congress on August 24, 1912. This gave Alaska a say in the laws that were being passed to administer the Territory. Expectations were not live up to with Territorial status as there was a period of economic and population decline. The Alaska Railroad was build between Seward and Fairbanks between 1914 and 1923. Copper was shipped from the Kennecott Copper Mine to Cordova between 1911 and 1938. In 1935 Federal subsidies were provided to farmers from the Midwest and Dust Bowl to settle the Matanuska Valley Colony.
World War II brought a short lived influx of military personnel and a boom in building within the State. With the end of the war there was a decline in military personnel resulting in a short lived recession. The Cold War of the late 1940's brought about tremendous population and economic growth due to defense spending by the U.S. Government.
The most important result of all this activity was the movement for statehood. In 1949 the Alaska Statehood Committee launched a campaign which brought about the Alaska Statehood Act which was signed by President Eisenhower on July 7, 1958. On January 3, 1959, Alaska was officially proclaimed the forty-ninth state of the Union. From 1959 to present, Alaska has had economic booms with timber, oil, sea foods, and the tourism industries.
- Outsiders first discovered Alaska in 1741 when Danish explorer Vitus Jonassen Bering sighted it on a voyage from Siberia.
- Russian whalers and fur traders on Kodiak Island established the first settlement in Alaska in 1784.
- In 1867 United States Secretary of State William H. Seward offered Russia $7,200,000, or two cents per acre, for Alaska.
- On October 18, 1867 Alaska officially became the property of the United States. Many Americans called the purchase "Seward's Folly."
- Joe Juneau's 1880 discovery of gold ushered in the gold rush era.
- In 1943 Japan invaded the Aleutian Islands, which started the One Thousand Mile War, the first battle fought on American soil since the Civil War.
- Alaska officially became the 49th state on January 3, 1959.
- Alaska's most important revenue source is the oil and natural gas industry.
- Alaska accounts for 25% of the oil produced in the United States.
- The state of Rhode Island could fit into Alaska 425 times.
- Prudhoe Bay, on the northern Alaskan coast, is North America's largest oil field.
- The Trans-Alaska Pipeline moves up to 88,000 barrels of oil per hour on its 800 mile journey to Valdez.
- The fishing and seafood industry is the state's largest private industry employer.
- Most of America's salmon, crab, halibut, and herring come from Alaska.
- The term Alaska native refers to Alaska's original inhabitants including Aleut, Eskimo and Indian groups.
- The wild forget-me-not is the official state flower. The Territorial Legislature adopted it in 1917.
- The willow ptarmigan is the official state bird. The Territorial Legislature adopted it in 1955.
- The Sitka spruce is the official state tree. The Territorial Legislature adopted it in 1962.
- Dog mushing is the official state sport. The Alaska Legislature adopted it in 1972.
- An unnamed draftsman created the state seal in 1910. It consists of a rising sun shining on forests, lake, fishing and shipping boats, and agricultural and mining activities.
- The state motto is North to the Future.
- The jade is the official state gemstone.
- Gold is the official state mineral. It was named the state mineral in 1968.
- The four-spot skimmer dragonfly is the official state insect.
- In 1926 13-year-old Bennie Benson from Cognac, Alaska designed the state flag.
- Alaska has been called America's Last Frontier.
- Every four years Alaskans elect a Governor and a Lieutenant Governor to four-year terms.
- The Alaska State Legislature is made up of a Senate and a House of Representatives.
- Twenty senators are elected to four-year terms; forty representatives serve two-year terms.
- Alaska's Constitution was adopted in 1956 and became effective in 1959 making it the 49th state.
- Nearly one-third of Alaska lies within the Arctic Circle.
- The Alaska Highway was originally built as a military supply road during World War II.
- The state boasts the lowest population density in the nation.
- The discovery of gold in the Yukon began a gold rush in 1898. Later gold was discovered at Nome and Fairbanks.
- Alaska is a geographical marvel. When a scale map of Alaska is superimposed on a map of the 48 lower states, Alaska extends from coast to coast.
- The state's coastline extends over 6,600 miles.
- Alaska is the United State's largest state and is over twice the size of Texas. Measuring from north to south the state is approximately 1,400 miles long and measuring from east to west it is 2,700 miles wide.
- Agattu, Attu, and Kiska are the only parts of North America occupied by Japanese troops during World War II.
- Oil is the state's most valuable natural resource. The area includes what is thought to be the largest oil field in North America.
- In 1986 Mount Augustine erupted near Anchorage.
- Alaska's geographic center is 60 miles northwest of Mount McKinley.
- The Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the United States.
- 17 of the 20 highest peaks in the United States are located in Alaska.
- At 20,320 feet above sea level, Mt. McKinley, located in Alaska's interior, is the highest point in North America.
- Juneau is the only capital city in the United States accessible only by boat or plane.
- The state's largest city is Anchorage; the second largest is Fairbanks.
- The Alaska Range is the largest mountain chain in the state. It covers from the Alaska Peninsula to the Yukon Territory.
- In 1915 the record high temperature in Alaska was 100 degrees Fahrenheit at Fort Yukon; the record low temperature was -80 degrees Fahrenheit at Prospect Creek Camp in 1971.
- The Alaskan malamute sled dog is strong and heavily coated. It was developed as a breed by a group of Eskimos named the Malemiuts.
- Alaska's name is based on the Eskimo word Alakshak meaning great lands or peninsula.
- Alaska.gov - Official website.