Alaska became the forty-ninth state to enter into the United States of America in 1959. Alaska is not contiguous to the rest of the United States, bordering Canada's Yukon Territory to the east. Its capital is Juneau.
Alaska's territory was purchased from Russia in 1867 by the Johnson administration for 7.2 million USD; its vast oil and gold reserves have more than repaid the investment that was once ridiculed as "Seward's Folly." (William H. Seward was the Secretary of State that negotiated Alaska's purchase from Russia.)
Although it is the largest state by area, it is one of the smallest states by population. Because of its lack of population, Alaska has only one representative in the House (Republican Don Young), and thus three votes in the Electoral College. Its current governor is Sarah Palin.
- 1 Alaskan Flora
- 2 Alaskan Fauna
- 3 Natural Resources
- 4 Beringia
- 5 Native Culture
- 6 Native Subsistence
- 7 Contact with Europeans
- 8 Early Exploration
- 9 The Early Russian Era
- 10 The Alaskan Purchase
- 11 The Klondike Gold Rush
- 12 Sustainable Developement of Alaska
- 13 Early Alaskan Fisheries
- 14 1918 Flu Epidemic
- 15 World War II in Alaska
- 16 Statehood
- 17 Modern Alaska Government
- 18 Location of Capitol
- 19 Exxon Valdez
- 20 Official Symbols
- 21 Trivia
Alaska is highly forested. Trees found in Alaska include Birch, Aspen, and many conifers including Spruce and Firs. Alaska is home to many berries. Alaskan bushes yield Blueberries, Raspberries, Cranberries, Salmonberries, and the less flavorful Crowberries. There is also an abundance of wild rose hips in Alaska. Almost all plants in Alaska have at some point been used as a kind of medicine. The most notable medicine plants in Alaska are “Stinkweed” and Willow, which have both been used to treat many ailments. Many plants have been traditionally used to make tea. These include Birch, Willow, Alder, and Labrador Tea. The natives used Birch for other purposes, including building. Most famously, the Natives used Birch Bark to make baskets and Canoes. Willow switches were often used as an alternative to sinew for string.
Many animals in Alaska are hunted for their meat. These include large game such as moose, bear, and caribou, small game such as hares, grouse, and fowl. A large quantity of wild fish is also eaten especially salmon, trout, and halibut. Alaskan seas are inhabited by whales, seals, walruses, and of course fish. Native Alaskans hunted some whales, walruses, seals, and many kinds of fish for food and, in the case of seals, for furs. Spring brings large flocks of migratory birds to Alaska. Such birds as Canada geese, cranes, ducks, and many song birds inhabit Alaska during spring and summer. Mosquitoes, horseflies, and several other biting bugs thrive here.
Alaska is home to vast quantities of oil, mostly along the north coast. Development of this resource has led to many environmental disasters and political issues. Gold was one of the first industries to be established in Alaska. When word reached the lower 48 of a gold strike in Alaska there was a “gold rush.” Thousands of miners rushed into Alaska in the hopes of striking it rich. Few did, but the gold rush forever changed Alaska. Gold is still a major industry in modern Alaska. Formerly one of Alaska’s largest industries, commercial fishing no longer supplies a significant amount of capitol to Alaska. However, in the early years of Alaska’s history, this resource was vastly exploited. The Lumber industry in Alaska is not purely a success story. When the industry was first established, massive sections of forest were clear cut and sold and low prices. At first this industry hardly made a profit, but improved in success through better use of the lumber they cut.
The Bering Land Bridge was a strip of land that formerly connected Russia and Alaska. It is assumed that most Native North American and at least some Native South American tribes are descended from Asians that immigrated over that bridge. The seas now separating Alaska and Russia are mostly quite shallow. This means that during periods of global cooling, when the oceans water molecules condensed, the sea level receded and revealed land that connected Asia and America. It is suspected that the bridge was crossed by humans who then inhabited the Americas. Beringia also enabled the migration of other mammals between the two continents. Ancient ancestors of camels, which evolved in North America, migrated to Asia, and the American camelids eventually became extinct.
Alaska Native Culture varies greatly from tribe to tribe. On the whole, culture tends to be most directly linked to the environment in which a certain tribe lived. The majority of Interior Alaskan tribes are Athabascan. The Athabascans are a widespread people who lived mainly along rivers, since they provided food and easy transportation. The people of the south coast were mainly comprised of the Tlingit and Haida, tribes with a rich spiritual culture who primarily lived on fish and sea lion. These tribes occasionally also ate whale. The Tlingit and Haida had a complicated tribal system to prevent accidental incest. The people of the northern coasts, often called the Eskimos, are the people that practiced the famous blanket toss. This was originally developed as a method of looking over a large area for potential game. These tribes also hunted whale.
Subsistence is a term that means “living off the land.” Alaska Native Subsistence includes many varieties off hunting, fishing, and gathering. Alaska is abundant in big game, with many creatures such as moose, walrus, bears, seals, and sea lion. Alaska is also home to a somewhat more limited selection of small game including water fowl, grouse and hares. Many small creatures could be hunted but most are not very good for eating, and so they were usually not hunted by humans. The rivers and oceans in and around Alaska provide many types of fish and other aquatic life. Most important to traditional Native subsistence is the salmon, which is a marine creature through most of its life but travels upstream to spawn. This life cycle makes the salmon a fish that appears in many different areas of Alaska, and it is very good for eating. Shellfish was also frequently eaten, and other types of fish such as trout, halibut, and burbot are abundant in Alaska. Some tribes, mainly “Eskimo” peoples also ate whale meat. Aside from fauna, Alaska is home to many types of delicious berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, cranberries, and salmonberries.
Contact with Europeans
Contrary to what is often taught in younger grades, Columbus was not the first European to reach America. The first European to set foot in the Americas was Norse Explorer Leif Erikson. Although he may not have directly affected Alaska Natives, the Norse arrival brought Europeans into Native American culture. The first Europeans to see Alaska were James Cook, his crew, and certain Russian Explorers. The Russians took over Alaska and introduced European concepts to the Native Alaskans. However they also brought with them a wealth of European diseases. These diseases drastically effected the Native population of Alaska. Disasters stemming from the introduction of alcohol and tobacco into Alaska later arose. It took a very long time for relationships between Caucasians and Alaska Natives to be repaired.
Even after Alaska was discovered, the cold weather and extent of the land made it a long time before it was thoroughly explored. One of the earliest explorers was Knud Rasmussen. Rasmussen was a Greenlandic explorer whose main job on the explorations was to learn about and document information regarding Alaska Native culture and spiritual beliefs. He was the leader of several expeditions and brought with him other specialists. When the U.S. purchase became a factor, more serious exploration began. The goal of these explorations was to find the true value of Alaska. It proved to be very high. Alaska turned out to be rich in many different natural resources.
The Early Russian Era
The First Europeans to reach Alaska were Russians. Small groups of fur traders soon started sailing from Siberia to the Aleutians. Later, Traders began to establish trading posts. By the 1790s some trading posts were permanent establishments. By 1804 Alexandr Baranov, the manager of the Russian–American Company, had strengthened Russia’s hold on the Alaskan fur trade. Starting in the 1860’s, Russia began to consider selling Alaska. After some decades, the over hunting had begun to take its toll on Alaska’s wildlife, especially fur-bearers.
The Alaskan Purchase
In 1867, Russia finally sold its land in America to the United States. The purchase was driven by then Secretary of State William Steward. The 6,000,000 square mile territory was purchased for a sum of 7.2 million US dollars, or 5.9 cents an acre. The price was not nearly as low as it sounds, due to inflation, but was still quite cheap. The territory was sometimes referred to as Seward’s folly, Seward’s Icebox, or Andrew Johnson’s polar bear garden. Many people believed that spending so much money on such a remote region was foolish.
The Klondike Gold Rush
In the late 19th century, gold was discovered in Alaska, sparking a gold rush now called the Klondike gold rush. The main gold strike that fueled the gold rush in the interior was that of Felix Pedro. The gold rush brought the initial rise in Alaska’s population, which has continued to rise steadily over the years. During and following the gold rush communities in Alaska were established. Fairbanks was one of these communities. Many gold rush towns were later deserted, becoming “Ghost towns.” The rise in population, however, remained, and Alaska soon had several small cities.
Sustainable Developement of Alaska
Sustainable Development is a term used to refer to developing resources at a rate that allows them to be replaced. In the early days of Alaska sustainable development was not practiced to any extent, and some resources were nearly destroyed. One such industry was commercial fisheries. Commercial fishing was one of the first Alaskan resources to be vastly over-used. Fisheries nearly destroyed Alaska’s population of salmon and some other species of fish. Later the timber industry clear-cut many acres of forest and destroyed much of Alaska’s natural habitat. Other early industries in Alaska included the Gold mines, which were in general not very harmful to the environment, and the trapping industry, which was mostly used up by the time of the Alaska purchase, but was very harmful during its time as a major industry.
Early Alaskan Fisheries
A fishery is a place where fish are caught and processed. In Alaska, fisheries presented a major problem at some points in the past. many people worked in dangerous conditions and were underpaid in early Alaska’s commercial fisheries. Child labor was often used in these fisheries, and recent immigrants were also put to work there. Commercial fisheries were able to produce huge quantities of fish at very low prices, but in doing so horribly over-fished the rivers of Alaska. Some salmon fisheries damaged native communities by taking the bulk of one of their main food sources. The over fishing of Alaskan rivers continued for many decades, but in modern Alaska the concerns of fishermen and others are turned to farmed fish, rather than over-fishing of wild fish.
1918 Flu Epidemic
In 1918 a deadly flu epidemic swept across the globe, killing more people in a shorter amount of time than anything else in the history of mankind. The total death toll was around 20 million, and the flu left its mark everywhere. In Alaska thousands died in communities such as Ketchikan and Nome. these small towns were hit hard by the deaths. Natives, who had no natural resistance, were the hardest hit. In and around Nome, about 75% of the adult Native population was killed by the epidemic.
World War II in Alaska
On June 3, 1942, Japanese planes attacked Dutch Harbor, in the Aleutians. Dutch Harbor was bombed for two days, leaving 100 dead and many structures destroyed or on fire. On June 4 U.S. aircraft deployed from a nearby air base disguised as a cannery met the attack. Taking the Japanese by surprise, they destroyed five planes. They soon began to search for the Japanese aircraft carrier(s), but out of 6 planes that saw it, 4 were shot down and one was lost in the fog. Between June 6th and 7th Japanese forces invaded the Attu and Kiska, in the Western Aleutians. This invasion represented the first battles on American soil in nearly a century, and the first foreign battles on American land in about 130 years. On May 11, 1943, 12500 US soldiers landed on Attu, invading from both sides of the Island. Though they outnumbered the Japanese by more than 5 to 1, the Japanese were well entrenched and the southern US forces did not work their way out of Massacre Bay until 8 days of heavy fighting had passed. After working to the mainland, the Japanese were quickly defeated, and all except 30 of the 2300 troops were killed by US forces or themselves. The American death toll was 549. After securing Attu the American forces, now numbering 15000 with the arrival of reinforcements, moved on to Kiska, where about 5100 Japanese troops were stationed. In the dense fog, the Japanese managed to slip through a US barricade undetected, a move so bold and difficult that US commanders would not believe it occurred. The invasion proceeded and over 300 American soldiers were killed.
The movement for Alaskan statehood began around the turn of the 20th century, but faced widespread opposition because of worries that the region was too remote, or too sparsely populated. There were also assertions that the economy of Alaska was too unstable to make it a worthwhile addition to the United States. The suggestion of Statehood was taken more seriously after the roll Alaska played in WWII as a strategic point against the Japanese, but the real tipping point was the discovery of oil in Alaska. In 1958, Dwight Eisenhower signed the Alaska Statehood act, and Alaska was admitted to the union on January 3, 1959. William A. Egan, who had played a significant role in the writing of the Alaska constitution, became the first governor of Alaska.
Modern Alaska Government
The current government of Alaska is composed of the same three branches as the federal and most state governments. These three branches are the executive, legislative and judicial branches. The executive branch is headed by the Governor. The first Governor of Alaska, as mentioned above, was Democrat Bill Egan, and the current Governor is Republican Sarah Palin, Alaska’s first female Governor. The Governor is elected with a Lieutenant Governor. The current Lieutenant Governor is Sean Parnell, and the first was Hugh Wade. The legislative branch is made up of a two-part congress, the senate and the legislature. Senators and legislators are elected by popular vote from areas drawn out by the government.
Location of Capitol
The Alaskan Capitol is currently in Juneau, but there is some dispute over the location of the Capitol. One basis for the arguments to relocate the capitol is the fact that Juneau is in the very Southeast corner of Alaska, on an island accessible only by ferry or aircraft. Proposed locations for the capitol have been Anchorage, the largest city, Fairbanks, which is close to the geographic center of Alaska, and Willow, the original capitol of Alaska. The popular vote, however, has so far kept the Capitol in Juneau.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill remains one of Alaska’s most tragic incidents. On March 24, 1989, a tanker belonging to Exxon Mobil hit a reef, damaging the ship and causing about 11 million gallons of oil to be spilled into Prince William Sound. The tanker was bound for California carrying 53 million gallons of crude oil when it crashed into the reef. At the time the ship was being driven by the third mate, per orders of Captain Joseph Hazelwood. At 12:04 AM, when the ship hit the reef, it was reported as a minor accident. Chances are, had the spill been properly reported, it could have been contained. The spill, of course, had devastating environmental effects. Estimates are that 250-500 thousand sea birds, 3-5 thousand sea otters, 12 river otters, 300 harbour seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 orcas, and billions of salmon and herring eggs were killed/destroyed immediately. Plants and other animals were also harmed by the spill.
Motto-North to the Future
Alaska has more coastline than the rest of the US combined.
Alaska has a population density of ~1 person per square mile.