History of Alaska
The history of Alaska dates back to the Upper Paleolithic period (around 14,000 BC), when
foraging groups crossed the Bering land bridge into what is now western Alaska. At the time
of European contact by the Russian explorers, the area was populated by Alaska Native groups.
The name "Alaska" derives from the Aleut word Alaxsxaq (also spelled Alyeska), meaning "mainland"
(literally, "the object toward which the action of the sea is directed") U.S purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867.
In the 1890s, gold rushes in Alaska and the nearby Yukon Territory brought thousands of
miners and settlers to Alaska. Alaska was granted territorial status in 1912 by the
United States of America.
The Alaska Purchase was the United States'
acquisition of Alaska from the Russian Empire. Alaska was formally transferred to the United
States on October 18, 1867, through a treaty ratified by the United States Senate. US pay
$7.2 million check used to pay for Alaska (roughly $133 million in 2021) Russia had established a presence in North
America during the first half of the 18th century, but few Russians ever settled in
Alaska. In the aftermath of the Crimean War, Russian Tsar Alexander II began exploring
the possibility of selling Alaska, which would be difficult to defend in any future war from
being conquered by Russia's archrival, the United Kingdom. Following the end of the American
Civil War, U.S. Secretary of State William Seward entered into negotiations with Russian
minister Eduard de Stoeckl for the purchase of Alaska. Seward and Stoeckl agreed to a
treaty on March 30, 1867, and the treaty was ratified by the United States Senate by a
Due to Financial difficulties in Russia, the
low profits of trade with Alaskan settlement, and the important desire to keep Alaska out
of British hands all contributed to Russia's willingness to sell its possessions in North
America. The purchase added 586,412 square miles (1,518,800 km2) of new territory to
the United States for the cost of $7.2 million 1867 dollars. In modern terms, the cost was
equivalent to $133 million in 2021 dollars or $0.37 per acre. Reactions to the purchase
in the United States were mostly positive, as many believed possession of Alaska would
serve as a base to expand American trade in Asia. Some opponents labeled the purchase
as "Seward's Folly", or "Seward's Icebox", as they contended that the United States had
acquired useless land. Nearly all Russian settlers left Alaska in
the aftermath of the purchase, Alaska would remain sparsely populated until the Klondike
Gold Rush began in 1896.
Originally organized as the Department of Alaska, the area was
renamed the District of Alaska (1884) and the Alaska Territory (1912) before becoming
the modern State of Alaska in 1959. Alaska was granted U.S. statehood on January
3, 1959. In 1964, the massive "Good Friday earthquake" killed 131 people and leveled
several villages. The 1968 discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay and the 1977 completion of
the Trans-Alaska Pipeline led to an oil boom.
In 1989, the Exxon Valdez hit a reef in Prince
William Sound, spilling between 11 and 34 million U.S. gallons (42,000 and 130,000 m3)
of crude oil over 1,100 miles (1,600 km) of coastline. Today, the battle between philosophies
of development and conservation is seen in the contentious debate over oil drilling in
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. When Alaska was first purchased, most of its
land remained unexplored. In 1865, Western Union laid a telegraph line across Alaska
to the Bering Strait where it would connect, under water, with an Asian line.
It also conducted
the first scientific studies of the region and produced the first map of the entire Yukon
River. The Alaska Commercial Company and the military also contributed to the growing exploration
of Alaska in the last decades of the 19th century, building trading posts along the
Interior's many rivers. In 1884, the region was organized and the
name was changed from the Department of Alaska to the District of Alaska.
At the time, legislators
in Washington, D.C., were occupied with post-Civil War reconstruction issues, and had little
time to devote to Alaska. In 1896, the discovery of gold in Yukon Territory in neighboring
Canada, brought many thousands of miners and new settlers to Alaska, and very quickly ended
the nation's four year economic depression. Although it was uncertain whether gold would
also be found in Alaska, Alaska greatly profited because it was along the easiest transportation
route to the Yukon goldfields.
Numerous new cities, such as Skagway, Alaska, owe their
existence to a gold rush in Canada. In 1899, gold was found in Alaska itself in
Nome, and several towns subsequently began to be built, such as Fairbanks and Ruby. In
1902, the Alaska Railroad began to be built, which would connect from Seward to Fairbanks
by 1914, though Alaska still does not have a railroad connecting it to the lower 48 states
today. Still, an overland route was built, cutting transportation times to the contiguous
states by days. The industries of copper mining, fishing, and canning began to become popular
in the early 20th century, with 10 canneries in some major towns.
In 1903, a boundary dispute with Canada was
finally resolved. By the turn of the 20th century, commercial fishing was gaining a
foothold in the Aleutian Islands. Packing houses salted cod and herring, and salmon
canneries were opened. Another commercial occupation, whaling, continued with no regard
for over-hunting. They pushed the bowhead whales to the edge of extinction for the oil
in their tissue. The Aleuts soon suffered severe problems due to the depletion of fur
seals and sea otters which they needed for survival. As well as requiring the flesh for
food, they also used the skins to cover their boats, without which they could not hunt.
The Americans also expanded into the Interior and Arctic Alaska, exploiting the furbearers,
fish, and other game on which Natives depended. When Congress passed the Second Organic Act
in 1912, Alaska was reorganized, and renamed the Territory of Alaska. By 1916, its population
was about 58,000. James Wickersham, a Delegate to Congress, introduced Alaska's first statehood
bill, but it failed due to the small population and lack of interest from Alaskans.
Warren G. Harding's visit in 1923 could not create widespread interest in statehood. Under
the conditions of the Second Organic Act, Alaska had been split into four divisions.
The most populous of the divisions, whose capital was Juneau, wondered if it could become
a separate state from the other three. Government control was a primary concern, with the territory
having 52 federal agencies governing it. By the turn of the 20th century, a movement
pushing for Alaska statehood began, but in the contiguous 48 states, legislators were
worried that Alaska's population was too sparse, distant, and isolated, and its economy was
too unstable for it to be a worthwhile addition to the United States.
World War II and the
Japanese invasion highlighted Alaska's strategic importance, and the issue of statehood was
taken more seriously, but it was the discovery of oil at Swanson River on the Kenai Peninsula
that dispelled the image of Alaska as a weak, dependent region. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the
Alaska Statehood Act into United States law on July 4, 1958, which paved the way for Alaska's
admission into the Union on January 3, 1959. Juneau, the territorial capital, continued
as state capital, and William A.
Egan was sworn in as the first governor. In July 1923 Warren Harding became the first
sitting President to visit Alaska as part of his Pacific Northwest 'Voyage of Understanding."
Harding arrived by boat from Seattle and made nine stops in the Territory via train which
went from Seward to Fairbanks. On July 15 Harding drove in a golden railroad spike at
Nenana. The train car in which he rode now sits in Fairbanks' Pioneer Park The Depression caused prices of fish and copper,
which were vital to Alaska's economy at the time, to decline. Wages were dropped and the
workforce decreased by more than half. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt thought
Americans from agricultural areas could be transferred to Alaska's Matanuska-Susitna
Valley for a fresh chance at agricultural self-sustainment.
Colonists were largely from
northern states, such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota under the belief that only those
who grew up with climates similar to that. The exploration and settlement of Alaska would
not have been possible without the development of the aircraft, which allowed for the influx
of settlers into the state's interior, and rapid transportation of people and supplies
throughout. However, due to the unfavorable weather conditions of the state, and high
ratio of pilots-to-population, over 1700 aircraft wreck sites are scattered throughout its domain.
Numerous wrecks also trace their origins to the military build-up of the state during
both World War II and the Cold War. In 1971, with major petroleum dollars on the
line, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was signed into law by Richard Nixon.
Under the Act, Natives relinquished aboriginal claims to their lands in exchange for access
to 44 million acres (180,000 km²) of land and payment of $963 million.
was divided among regional, urban, and village corporations, which managed their funds with
varying degrees of success. Oil production was not the only economic value
of Alaska's land, however. In the second half of the 20th century, Alaska discovered tourism
as an important source of revenue. Tourism became popular after World War II, when military
personnel stationed in the region returned home praising its natural splendor. The Alcan
Highway, built during the war, and the Alaska Marine Highway System, completed in 1963,
made the state more accessible than before. Tourism became increasingly important in Alaska,
and today over 1.4 million people visit the state each year..