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History >> US Geography >> US State History

Alaska

State History

The land that is today the state of Alaska was originally settled thousands of years ago. Historians believe that the people first arrived from northern Asia, coming across the Bering Land Bridge during the last Ice Age. The lower sea levels caused this land to be exposed, but today it is under water. These original peoples settled throughout Alaska, Canada, and the Americas. In Alaska they eventually became tribes such as the Tlingit, Haida, Aleut, Tsimshian, and the Inuit.


Mt. McKinley
Mt. McKinley from the National Park Service

Europeans Arrive

In 1728, a Danish explorer named Vitus Bering arrived in Alaska. He discovered a strait between North America and Asia. Today this straight is named the Bering Strait. He returned to the area in 1741 and explored the Alaskan coastline. British explorer Captain James Cook arrived in 1776 looking for the fabled Northwest Passage. He landed on the coast and made contact with the natives.

Colonizing Alaska

The Russians were the first Europeans to establish a permanent settlement in Alaska in 1784 on Kodiak Island. They continued to settle the area, primarily in order to hunt sea otters for their fur. Over the next several years, both Spain and Britain made attempts at exploring Alaska, but the Russians continued to be the dominant European presence.

Polar Bear looking back
Polar Bear by Debruyne Terry


The U.S. Purchases Alaska

The United States purchased Alaska from Russia on August 1, 1867 for $7,200,000. The purchase was supported by Secretary of State William Seward. At first, people thought that the purchase was a mistake and a waste of money. They called Alaska "Seward's Folly." However, Seward was vindicated when gold and oil were discovered. The price of two cents an acre turned out to be a good investment.

Klondike Gold Rush

In 1896, large deposits of gold were discovered in the Klondike territory of Alaska. Soon word got out and people were flocking to Alaska to strike it rich. Between 1896 and 1899, around 100,000 people traveled to Alaska to mine for gold. This period is called the Klondike Gold Rush or the Yukon Gold Rush. It is estimated that over 1 million pounds of gold have been mined from the region.

World War II

During World War II, two of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska were invaded by the Japanese. This was the only part of the continental United States that was occupied during the war. The United States retook the islands after fierce fighting. It was at this point that the U.S. established a strong military presence in Alaska. A highway was also built from the state of Montana to the city of Fairbanks in Alaska, connecting the region to the lower 48 states for the first time.

Becoming a State

The U.S. Congress established Alaska as the Territory of Alaska in 1912. Many people thought that the territory should not become a state. However, the region became strategically important to the military during World War II. Also, oil was discovered making the territory economically important to the United States. On January 3, 1959 Alaska was admitted into the Union as the 49th state.

Alaska mountain range
Alaska mountain range
by Lana Shea, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service


Timeline More US State History:

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming


Works Cited

History >> US Geography >> US State History





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