It is well-known that Alaska is one of the fifty states in the U.S.
What many people don’t know, however, is how an area of land attached to Canada became part of the United States.
We’ll explain why Alaska is a state and provide a brief history of the area.
Why Is Alaska Part Of The United States?
Alaska belongs to the United States because it was purchased by the U.S. government from Russia in 1867.
In 1725, Russia sent Vitus Bering on an expedition to explore the Alaskan coast.
They claimed Alaska for Russia and took control of the area in the late 1700s.
Russia was interested in the land because it is rich in natural resources.
As time went on, Russian leaders were unable to manage land that was so far away.
They never managed to get more than four hundred permanent Russian settlers in the area.
They also knew that the U.S. was expanding westward.
In 1859, Russia offered to sell Alaska to the United States.
Because of the Civil War, the purchase was delayed for several years.
In 1867, however, Secretary of State William Seward offered to purchase the land for $7.2 million, or around two cents an acre.
Today, that amounts to just $113 million.
President Andrew Johnson approved the purchase, and the U.S. adopted Alaska in October of that year.
Who Else Has Inhabited Alaska?
For thousands of years, before the Russians came, Inuit and other indigenous tribes inhabited the area.
It is believed that these people came to Alaska in two ways.
Some groups walked over what is now called the Bering land bridge, and others traveled by sea across the Pacific Ocean.
For this reason, it is believed that Alaska Natives and other indigenous tribes are of Asian descent.
These indigenous peoples were first able to live in Alaska by adapting to the environment in a variety of ways.
They adopted a subsistence lifestyle of hunting, fishing, and gathering.
This allowed them to feed themselves in a challenging climate.
Over time, several waves of people migrated over and formed different tribes.
These tribes had differing cultures and languages and lived in different geographical areas, though they often had common values and struggles.
Many Alaskan Natives still live in Alaska.
As of 2014, it was estimated that members of the various tribes make up 18% of the Alaskan population.
There are eleven distinct indigenous cultures still existing in Alaska today, including the Tlingit, Athabascan, and Alutiiq tribes contributing to more than five million Alaskan Native people living throughout the United States.
What Was The Reaction To The Purchase Of Alaska?
Some people within the United States disagreed with the decision to purchase Alaska.
Members of Congress and the press called the purchase “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox” after the Secretary of State who negotiated the acquisition.
Opponents of the procurement of Alaska thought the land was useless and that the United States had wasted its money.
However, public opinion regarding the purchase of Alaska was mostly positive or neutral.
Those who supported the move believed that it was important for the United States to have a positive relationship with Russia.
They thought that making Alaska part of the U.S. would increase trade with East Asia and help the country’s economy.
Public view of the transaction became even more positive when gold was discovered in Nome, Alaska in 1899.
Alaska Natives, however, were not consulted in the negotiations between Russia and the United States.
They did not have great relations with the Russian colonists.
Many indigenous people were killed, enslaved, or driven out of their lands when the Russians arrived with weapons such as firearms and cannons.
The Natives fought back, and the relationship between the two groups was not a positive one.
From the time the Russians landed in Alaska until the time it was ceded to the United States, the number of indigenous people in Alaska fell by half.
When the United States took possession of Alaska, things were not much better.
Natives were still treated poorly by the new settlers.
The indigenous tribes also still claimed that the land was theirs since they had not lost it in a war or ceded it to anyone else.
In 1971, President Richard Nixon ceded 44 million acres of federal land in Alaska to the natives.
This was accompanied by close to one billion dollars as “compensation” for the rest of the land in the state.
When Did Alaska Become A State?
Alaska did not become a state immediately after being purchased.
In fact, it would not officially become a state for another 92 years.
The area was initially governed by the military.
It became a district with an appointed governor in 1884.
The land and the people on it were largely ignored by the rest of the country, including the federal government, until the 1890s, when the Gold Rush began.
The Klondike Gold Rush brought thousands of settlers and miners into the area in the 1910s.
The district officially became the Territory of Alaska in 1912.
This change brought the right to vote in U.S. elections to the inhabitants of the territory.
They could also run for office.
It is important to note, however, that these rights were not granted to Alaska Natives.
They did not win the right to vote or run for office until 1924 when the Snyder Act was passed.
In 1916, James Wickersham, Alaska’s Delegate to Congress, introduced a statehood bill.
He thought Alaska should officially be a state in the union.
However, Alaskans were generally uninterested in the idea, and the bill failed.
During World War II, Alaska proved useful to the United States government.
In 1945, the U.S. military used the Alaskan Peninsula to transfer ships to the Soviet Union.
They also used the area to train Soviet soldiers.
After World War II, the statehood movement gained traction.
In 1959, Alaska became the 49th state.
What Were The Alaska Gold Rushes?
The first gold in Alaska was found in Sitka in 1872.
This find was not as well-publicized as those that would come later.
There were a few other gold strikes in Alaska over the next several years.
The first major gold rush in the area began when gold was found near the Klondike River in 1896.
The Klondike River was in the Yukon Territory in Canada, just beyond the Alaskan border.
In order to get to the Klondike, thousands of miners poured into Skagway and Dyea.
This transformed these tiny Alaskan homesteads into boomtowns.
Merchants also came to the towns to provide supplies and advice to the aspiring gold hunters.
In ten years, the population of white people in Alaska increased from around 4,000 to more than 30,000.
In 1899, gold was discovered in the sand on Nome Beach in Alaska.
In the following year, more than 20,000 people came to Nome in hopes of striking it rich.
This would be Alaska’s largest gold rush. More than 35 million dollars’ worth of gold was found in the streams of Nome.
For several years afterward, Nome remained the largest city in Alaska.
The Alaska Gold Rushes were largely over by 1904, but their effects were lasting.
Many modern Alaskan cities got their start during this period.
It would be only eight more years before the District of Alaska was promoted to a territory.
What Other Significant Events Have Happened In Alaska?
Alaska has made headlines for various events in the years since it was granted statehood.
In March of 1964, the largest earthquake to ever hit North America struck the Prince William Sound.
It registered as a 9.2 on the Richter scale.
Fortunately, the area was not densely populated.
Sadly, 130 people were killed, but this is relatively low for an earthquake of this magnitude.
However, many buildings were destroyed, and it caused a tsunami that hit Hawaii and California.
In 1968, oil was discovered on Alaska’s North Slope, in an area called Prudhoe Bay.
A pipeline system was built over the next decade, and the state’s economy was changed forever.
Prudhoe Bay is the largest oil field in North America.
Before this discovery, most jobs in Alaska were summer jobs in fishing and construction.
From the discovery of the oil field until 2003, Alaska’s employment tripled.
More than one-third of jobs in Alaska were in the oil industry in 2007.
Unfortunately, the development of the industry also led to a massive oil spill in 1989, when 11 million gallons of oil spilled into the Prince William Sound.
This destroyed wildlife in the area.
Cleanup took more than three years.
In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) was passed.
This set aside more than 100 million acres of land for preservation and protection.
Some of these lands now make up the federal park system in Alaska.
Alaska has the most national park land by area of any state.
What Does Alaska Look Like Today?
When many people think of Alaska, they may picture a remote tundra with little life or small villages without access to technology.
Places like these can still be found, but much of Alaska has developed in a similar fashion to the rest of the United States.
Today, there are cities and towns throughout the state.
The largest city is Anchorage, with a population of 300,000.
Bigger communities in Alaska enjoy the same amenities as other U.S. towns, including restaurants, movie theaters, shopping centers, and parks.
Residents have access to TV and the internet, and most schools look remarkably similar to their counterparts in the lower 48.
Of course, some Alaskans still choose to live in remote areas and enjoy a life of solitude.
Alaska is home to breathtaking scenery.
The state has 17 national parks, 16 national wildlife refuges, and 156 state parks.
The natural landscapes include forests, lakes, glaciers, fjords, and mountain ranges.
One of these ranges, the Alaska Range, boasts the summit of Mt. Denali, the tallest mountain peak in North America.
In northern parts of the state, the sun does not set for months in the summer.
In the winter, these same areas do not see the sun at all.
Alaska also hosts a variety of wildlife.
Brown and black bears can be found throughout forests and near rivers, depending on the time of year.
Polar bears also live in the far northern areas of the state.
Moose are not an uncommon sight in Alaska’s parks and forests.
Near the coast, divers might see whales, walruses, otters, and more.
Other animals that inhabit the state include wolves, foxes, owls, and elk.
What Is There To Do In Alaska?
Alaska has a bustling outdoor recreation community.
People travel from all over to participate in activities not found in many other places.
Due to the long winter season, Alaska is one of the best places in the world for winter sports.
Skiing is a popular pastime in the state, in all its many forms.
Alpine skiers can find several resorts within 45 minutes of Anchorage.
There are also thousands of miles of trails that can be used for cross-country skiing.
Ice climbing is an extreme sport in which participants use picks and special shoes to scale walls of ice.
Alaska, being home to plenty of ice, has experienced guides who can take newbies on these excursions.
The guides keep climbers safe while teaching them proper techniques and showing off the breathtaking views of the area.
Alaska is also well-known for its dogsledding.
In this sport, participants stand on a sled while a team of sled dogs (typically huskies or malamutes) pulls it over the snow.
Dogsledding began as a means of transport for the Inuit people in northern Canada but is now more common as a recreational activity.
The first dogsledding race took place in Nome, Alaska.
The state is now home to the world-famous Iditarod, a race that begins in Anchorage and ends in Nome.
Dogsledding is so popular there that it is officially Alaska’s state sport.
Another famous Alaskan activity is viewing the Northern Lights.
While many people go out to see the phenomenon on their own, visitors can hire guides to help them find the best viewing location.
What Are Popular Destinations In Alaska?
Depending on which part of the state you visit, there is a wide variety of sights to see in Alaska.
One popular tourist destination is the seaside town of Seward.
The village is home to a harbor and small shops.
Every summer, the town holds the Mt. Marathon race, a three-mile footrace to the top of the 3,000-foot peak.
Another popular event is the Silver Salmon Derby, the largest fishing event in the state.
The town is also very close to Kenai Fjords National Park.
Fairbanks is the second-largest city in Alaska.
It resides near the center of the state and has a reputation for great views of the Northern Lights.
The aurora borealis can be viewed there an average of 243 nights per year.
The town got its start during the Gold Rush, and the effects of that heritage can be seen today.
Visitors can pan for gold and ride riverboats down the Chena and Tanana rivers.
Because of the city’s position just below the Arctic Circle, it is a popular destination for Arctic tours.
Anchorage, the largest city in the state, offers activities both indoors and out.
Downtown, you can find shopping centers, dining, and nightlife.
It also boasts several museums, cultural centers, concert halls, and theaters.
Outside of the hustle and bustle of the city, visitors can board flightseeing tours of Mt. Denali.
Denali is 140 miles away from Anchorage, so this is the best way for visitors to view the peak.
Other recreational endeavors near the city include bear viewing tours and day cruises to see Alaska’s famous glaciers.
What Else Is There To Know About Alaska?
Alaska holds the title of largest of all fifty states in the U.S.
It is one-fifth the size of the contiguous United States.
At 663,300 square miles, it is larger than California, Texas, and Montana combined.
Conversely, with just over 730,000 residents, Alaska ranks 48th by state population—only Vermont and Wyoming have smaller populations.
However, because of its vast land area, Alaska has the lowest population density of any state.
If the population were spread evenly throughout the state, there would be fewer than two people per square mile.
Denali is not the only large peak in Alaska.
Of the 20 highest summits in the U.S., 17 of them are in Alaska.
The state also has more than 70 volcanoes that are potentially active, several of which have erupted in the last two million years.
The most violent volcanic eruption of the 20th century occurred in 1912 along the Alaskan Peninsula.
The Novarupta volcano erupted for three days, forming the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes in Katmai National Park.
The area also experiences a high volume of earthquakes.
Each year, Alaska gets more than 5,000 earthquakes.
Three of the top ten strongest earthquakes ever measured happened in Alaska.
The Aleutian Islands is the name of the chain of islands stretching out from southwestern Alaska.
They reach across the International Date Line all the way to Russia.
The final U.S.-owned island in the chain, Attu Island, is more than 1,000 miles from mainland Alaska.
At their closest points, only 50 miles separate Alaska and Russia.
Each year, Alaskans observe Seward’s Day, a holiday commemorating the purchase of the land from Russia.
Controversial though it may have been at the time, the Purchase of Alaska is now a celebrated piece of the state’s history.
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