Alaska has a rather unique and unusual history, especially as it pertains to being one of the states in the United States. In the past, there was a land bridge connected eastern Alaska to Siberia.
People and animals have migrated and lived in Alaska since around 10,000 BCE. Some of the indigenous people that moved into the Alaskan region include the Inuit, Aleuts, Athabaskans, Haidia and Tlingit.
The name “Alaska” is from the Aleut word “Alyeska” which means “The Great Land.”
Quick Facts about Alaska
- Alaska was accepted as the 49th state on January 3, 1959
- As of the 2019 Census, the population of Alaska was 731,545
- The capital city of Alaska is Juneau
- Alaska’s size is 663,300 square miles
- The highest point in Alaska is the Denali mountain peak. It was once called Mount McKinley and then renamed. It is 20,310 feet and is the highest point in North America.
During the 1700s and 1800s, Russia had claimed the area and took advantage of the rich fur commerce that was coveted in Europe, North America, and Asia.
During the early 1800s, Kodiak was a kind of capital for the territory for Russians. Since the land areas were huge and mostly unexplored, people had to rely on each other.
A Russian-American company moved its headquarters to Sitka in 1806, where sea otters were plentiful.
Alaska was still considered to be a Russian colony, and as Russia moved into the lands that had been inhabited by the natives for thousands of years, there was a lot of conflicts.
After a time, relations settled between the Native Alaskans, the Russians, and even the Europeans that were beginning to show up, and all were eager to exploit the sea otters.
After years of slaughtering sea otters, they came near to extinction, causing Russia to lose interest in Alaska. When combined with the Crimean War, Russia was in need of money and made it known to William H. Seward, the U.S. Secretary of State, that they had an interest in selling the territory.
It didn’t take long to agree on a $7.2 million price for Alaska and it was approved by the U.S. Congress.
In 1867, an American flag was placed at Sitka, Alaska and the deal was called “The Alaska Purchase.”
Many people thought that the purchase was a foolish one and called the deal “Seward’s Folly.”
It wasn’t until gold was discovered in 1861 that people started to take interest in Alaska.
There was a gold rush to find the mineral in Klondike and Atlin, which later expanded so that many new towns were built almost overnight.
The area was largely been used by the War Department and military commanders until around 1877.
Since there was such a great population of salmon, the largest cannery was built there.
It took a lot of years, but by 1906 Alaska finally had its first Congressional representative, although it was a nonvoting position until 1912.
Alaska became the 49th state of the United States in 1959.
The location of Alaska makes the idea of days and nights a bit different. Many areas experience months of winter darkness with no light from the sun.
Barrow, Alaska has nearing two months of dark, however, in the summer it is almost like forever daytime because the sun doesn’t really completely set for nearing eighty-two days.
Whale watching in Glacier Bay is an incredible sight. The Tlingit natives refer to the location as “Big Ice-Mountain Bay” and it has been home to one of the healthiest humpback whale populations.
The Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve is a pristine national treasure, filled with an incredible array of animals and glacier-fed water.
Alaska is home to numerous native tribes and each have their own totem poles. The Sitka National Historic Park has a huge collection of these totems along the walking trail and at the visitor center.
The totems are so incredible they were included as part of the St Louis Exposition in 1904. The Totem Heritage Center has 33 totems that were retrieved from Haida and Tlingit villages.
The Bald Eagle
It has been reported that Alaska houses over 30,000 bald eagles, which is the largest population in North America.
Each October the eagles fly to the Bald Eagle Preserve for the salmon run.
The History of Chilkoot Trail
The history of the Gold Rush can be seen at the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail.
It can be reached by hiking or driving, and the trail still has a lot of the supplies that discouraged gold miners simply threw away as they left.
One of the longest rivers in the north is the Mighty Yukon River.
It meanders through parts of Alaska including towns that were once part of the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush.
The Soldier’s Summit Trail
The Soldier’s Summit on the Alaska Highway is the place where the Alaska Canada Military Highway had its official ribbon-cutting ceremony in 1942.
It took less than 8 months to build the highway and it was used as a World War II supply road.
Who hasn’t heard of the North Pole? It’s a bit south of Fairbanks and a popular place for visitors to take pictures.
Mount Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) is the tallest peak in North America.
People can see the mountain all along the Parks Highway and there are lots of places to pull over and take pictures.
During the era of building the Trans-Alaska pipeline, workers flocked to Alaska to build this huge marvel. It is so long that it can be seen from space.
The best view is in Valdez as you can see it wind down to the marine terminal and watch as the oil is sent to waiting tankers.
The Prince William Sound Glaciers are famous world-wide. These are some of the most breathtaking glaciers with blue ice that shimmers in the sun.
The blue color is due to the lack of oxygen in the ice itself.
The Kennecott Mine
The Kennecott Mine is in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. It was constructed when they were mining copper and eventually abandoned when the copper ran out.
It is now a ghost town area where visitors can see how they lived during the mining time.
The aurora borealis
The aurora borealis can be seen in Northern Alaska in the cold of winter as well as inland Alaska. This is nature’s light show as streaks and streams of color bounce in the sky.
The lights are due to the sun’s charged particles that strike molecules and atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere. When the atoms become excited they turn into colors.
Important Moments in History
- Around 1725, Russia’s Peter the Great’s commissioned expedition made the discovery of parts of the area known as Alaska and made the claim for Russia.
- Throughout the 1700s, various European explorers made their way through parts of Alaska, including Captain James Cook on his search for a Northwest Passage. Russia made use of sections of Alaska for the lucrative sea otter fur trade.
- By the 1800s other countries that made attempts to enter Alaska were forbidden by Russia, and no foreign ships were allowed in the ports of call.
- Mid-1800s both coal and gold mining was being pursued in Alaska, but not on any huge scale. In 1865, Western Union Telephone and Telegraph had plans for placing telegraph lines across Alaska and Siberia.
- Russia fell into the Crimean War and was in desperate need of money. By 1867 they struck a deal with the United States to purchase what we now call Alaska for about 2 cents per acre or $7.2 million. This came at a time when the seal fur trade was declining due to hunting them to near extinction.
- The 1870s brought more gold discovery near Sitka in British Columbia and then at Windham Bay south of Juneau.
- The big gold strike happened in 1888 when prospectors found gold around 40 miles south of Anchorage. The “boom or bust” flock of over 60,000 Americans happened as they traveled to find gold.
- 1890-1896 canneries began to be built to accommodate the rich source of salmon and other fish as well as the first oil was discovered.
- 1897-1900 the second gold rush happened called the Klondike gold rush.
- Early 1900s Alaska becomes a U.S. territory and experiences some rapid growth. Sea otters were placed under government protection and agreements with other countries were made for fur seal and fisheries.
- In 1912 there was an explosion of Mount Katmai that formed the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes
- Throughout the 1920s, expansion also included acceptance and education of the native indigenous tribes as citizens.
- By the 1940s the U.S. sent its first soldiers in to build an air field and army base which would eventually become Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base. Both allowed fast growth to Anchorage.
- When the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands in Alaska in 1942, the government built the Alaska Highway in eight months as part of a defense of the West Cost.
- 1943 saw the rapid growth of defense and military in Alaska
- From 1955 through 1959 Alaska prepared for statehood and was accepted as the 49th state in the United States.
- The 1960s brought the natural disasters of the Good Friday Earthquake and the Fairbanks Flood, but the years also brought a “land freeze” to protect land for the indigenous population.
- With the discovery of more oil in the late 60s, companies began drilling.
- The early 70s brought the Trans-Atlantic Pipeline, with Alaska receiving a large percentage of the profit from the oil.
- In 1989 the devastating Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill occurred, with a tanker carrying 53 million gallons of oil spilling and flowing into North Slope and 11 million gallons into Prince William Sound, destroying wildlife and natural resources.
- The 1990s saw limited fishing agreements and treaties in an effort to maintain the health and sustainability of the fish population.
- It took until 2004 for final legal settlement from Exxon when a judge orders them to pay $6.75 billion for damages due to the oil spill.
- In the early 2000s, Sarah Palin is elected as Governor and then later runs as the Republican Party Vice President nominee for the Republican Party.
- 2009 Palin resigns as Governor and the state celebrates fifty years of statehood.
The state bird of Alaska is the willow ptarmigan, which looks a bit like a pheasant.
The nickname for Alaska is “The Last Frontier”
The Alaska state flower is the forget-me-not
Land area of Alaska: 663,300 square miles
Alaska has 15 national parks, 120 state parks, 16 national wildlife refuges, two national forests, totaling to over 322 million acres of public land.
The primary export of Alaska is oil and natural gas, with secondary exports in seafood. Due to the rich resources of seafood, they export mostly salmon, cod, crab and Pollock.
There is agriculture in Alaska, but a majority of agriculture is for consumption within the state. The production of local agriculture includes dairy products, nursery stock, livestock, and vegetables. A majority of the food and most goods are imported.
Much of the employment in Alaska is from both the government and the natural resource extraction industries as well as transportation and shipping.
The state has low taxes due to the agreements made with extraction companies so that they receive subsidies. More recently, the attraction to the beauty of Alaska has offered a prospering tourist industry.
Alaska has the highest unemployment rate of 12.4 % of any state in the U.S. In 2016, Alaska’s GDP is around $54.44 billion, which makes it the 47th largest state economy.