The history of Alaska dates back to the Upper Paleolithic period (around
14,000 BC), when Asiatic 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, (an archaic spelling being Alyeska), meaning
“mainland” (literally, “the object toward which the action of the sea is
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.
In 1942, two of the outer Aleutian Islands—Attu and Kiska—were occupied by
the Japanese and their recovery for the U.S. became a matter of national
pride. The construction of military bases contributed to the population
growth of some Alaskan cities.
Alaska was granted statehood on January 3, 1959.
In 1964, the massive “Good Friday Earthquake” killed 131 people and leveled
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 35 million US 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
Paleolithic families moved into northwestern North America sometime between
16,000 and 10,000 BC across the Bering land bridge in western Alaska. Alaska
became populated by the Inuit and a variety of European groups. Today, early
Alaskans are divided into several main groups: the Southeastern Coastal
Indians (the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian), the Athabascans, the Aleut, and
the two groups of Eskimos, the Inupiat and the Yup'ik.
The coastal migrants from Asia were probably the first wave of humans to
cross the Bering Land Bridge in western Alaska, and many of them initially
settled in the interior of what is now Canada. The Tlingit were the most
numerous of this group, claiming most of the coastal Panhandle by the time of
European contact and are the northernmost of the group of advanced cultures
of the Pacific Northwest Coast renowned for its complex art and political
systems and the ceremonial and legal system known as the potlatch. The
southern portion of Prince of Wales Island was settled by the Haidas fleeing
persecution by other Haidas from the Queen Charlotte Islands (now part of
British Columbia). The Aleuts settled the islands of the Aleutian chain
approximately 10,000 years ago.
Cultural and subsistence practices varied widely among native groups, who
were spread across vast geographical distances.
On some islands and parts of the Alaskan peninsula, groups of traders had been
capable of relatively peaceful coexistence with the local inhabitants. Other
groups could not manage the tensions and perpetrated exactions. Hostages were
taken, individuals were enslaved, families were split up, and other
individuals were forced to leave their villages and settle elsewhere. In
addition, eighty percent of the Aleut population was destroyed by Old World
diseases, against which they had no immunity, during the first two
generations of Russian contact.
In 1784, Grigory Ivanovich Shelikhov arrived in Three Saints Bay on Kodiak
Island. Shelikov established killing hundreds of indigenous Koniag, then
founded the first permanent Russian settlement in Alaska on the island's
Three Saints Bay. By 1788 a number of Russian settlements had been
established by Shelikhov and others over a large region, including the
mainland areas around Cook Inlet.
The Russians had gained control of the habitats of the most valuable sea
otters, the Kurilian-Kamchatkan and Aleutian sea otters. Their fur was
thicker, glossier, and blacker than those of sea otters on the Pacific
Northwest Coast and California. The Russians, therefore, advanced to the
Northwest Coast only after the superior varieties of sea otters were
depleted, around 1788. The Russian entry to the Northwest Coast was slow,
however, due to a shortage of ships and sailors. Yakutat Bay was reached in
1794 and the settlement of Slavorossiya was built there in 1795.
Reconnaissance of the coast as far as the Queen Charlotte Islands was carried
out by James Shields, a British employee of the Golikov-Shelikhov Company.
In 1795 Alexandr Baranov, who had been hired in 1790 to manage Shelikhov's
fur enterprise, sailed into Sitka Sound, claiming it for Russia. Hunting
parties arrived in the following years and by 1800 three-quarters of Russian
America's sea otter skins were coming from the Sitka Sound area. In July 1799
Baranov returned on the brig Oryol and established the settlement of
Arkhangelsk. It was destroyed by Tlingits in 1802 but rebuilt nearby in 1804
and given the name Novo-Arkhangelsk (New Archangel). It soon become the
primary settlement and colonial capital of Russian America. After the Alaska
Purchase, it was renamed Sitka, the first capital of Alaska Territory.
The Russian Orthodox religion (with its rituals and sacred texts, translated
into Aleut at a very early stage) had been informally introduced, in the
1740s-1780s, by the fur traders. During his settlement of Three Saints Bay in
1784, Shelikov introduced the first resident missionaries and clergymen. This
missionary activity would continue into the 19th century, ultimately becoming
the most visible trace of the Russian colonial period in contemporary Alaska.
Spain's attempts at colonization
Spanish claims to Alaska dated to the papal bull of 1493, which allocated to
the Spanish the right to colonize the west coast of North America. When rival
countries, including Britain and Russia, began to show interest in Alaska in
the late 18th century, King Charles III of Spain sent a number of expeditions
to re-assert Spanish claims to the northern Pacific Coast of North America,
In 1775, Bruno de Hezeta led an expedition designed to solidify Spanish
claims to the northern Pacific. One of the expedition's two ships, the Sonora,
under Bodega y Quadra, ultimately reached latitude 58° north, entered Sitka
Sound and formally claimed the region for Spain.
The 1779 expedition of Ignacio de Arteaga and Bodega y Quadra reached Port
Etches on Hinchinbrook Island, and entered Prince William Sound. They reached
a latitude of 61° north, the most northern point obtained by Spain. They also
explored Cook Inlet and the Kenai Peninsula, where a possession ceremony was
performed, in what today is called Port Chatham.
In 1788, two Spanish ships under Esteban José Martínez and Gonzalo López de
Haro sailed north to investigate Russian activity. Haro arrived at Kodiak
Island in June and made contact with the Russians at Three Saints Bay. Having
obtained information and maps from the posts commander Evstrat Delarov, Haro
rejoined Martínez at Sitkinak Island, then sailed to Unalaska Island and the
large Russian settlement of Unalaska, commanded by Potap Kuzmich Zaikov. The
visit to Unalaska marks the westernmost point reached during the Spanish
voyages of exploration in Alaska.
In 1790, Spanish explorer Salvador Fidalgo led an expedition that included
visits to the sites of today's Cordova and Valdez, Alaska, where acts of
sovereignty were performed. Fidalgo sailed to Kodiak Island, investigating
but not making contact with the small Russian settlement there. Fidalgo then
investigated the Russian settlement at Alexandrovsk (today's English Bay or
Nanwalek, Alaska), southwest of today's Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula,
where again, a formal ceremony of sovereignty was performed.
In 1791, Alessandro Malaspina visited Alaska during his four-year scientific
exploration of the Pacific Ocean. The main reason for his trip to Alaska was
to investigate an inlet claimed by some to be the mythical Northwest Passage.
His ships spent about a month at the inlet, now known as Yakutat Bay, where
they made contact with the Tlingit.
In the end Spain withdrew from the North Pacific and transferred its claims
in the region to the United States in the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819. Today,
Spain's Alaskan legacy endures as little more than a few place names, among
these the Malaspina Glacier and the town of Valdez.
British settlements at the time in Alaska consisted of a few scattered
trading outposts, with most settlers arriving by sea. Captain James Cook,
midway through his third and final voyage of exploration in 1778, sailed
along the west coast of North America aboard the HMS Resolution, from
then-Spanish California all the way to the Bering Strait. During the trip, he
discovered what came to be known as Cook Inlet (named in honor of Cook in
1794 by George Vancouver, who had served under his command) in Alaska. The
Bering Strait proved to be impassable, although the Resolution and its
companion ship HMS Discovery made several attempts to sail through it. The
ships left the straits to return to Hawaii in 1779.
Cook's expedition spurred the British to increase their sailings along the
northwest coast, following in the wake of the Spanish. Alaska-based posts
owned by the Hudson's Bay Company, operated at Fort Yukon, on the Yukon
River, Fort Durham (aka Fort Taku) at the mouth of the Taku River, and Fort
Stikine, near the mouth of the Stikine River (associated with Wrangell
throughout the early 19th century.
Later Russian settlement and the Russian-American Company (1799-1867)
In 1799, Shelikhov's son-in-law, Nikolay Petrovich Rezanov, acquired a
monopoly on the American fur trade from Czar Paul I and formed the
Russian-American Company. As part of the deal, the Tsar expected the company
to establish new settlements in Alaska and carry out an expanded colonization
By 1804, Alexandr Baranov, now manager of the Russian–American Company, had
consolidated the company's hold on the American fur trade following his
victory over the local Tlingit clan at the Battle of Sitka. Despite these
efforts the Russians never fully colonized Alaska. The Russian monopoly on
trade was also being weakened by the Hudson's Bay Company, which set up a
post on the southern edge of Russian America in 1833.
The Russian-American Company suffered because of 1821 amendments to its
charter which turned over management to the Imperial Russian Navy and banned
foreigners from participating in the Alaskan economy. It soon entered into
the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1825 which allowed British merchants to trade
in Alaska. The Convention also settled most of the border between Alaska and
British North America.
The Russo-American Treaty of 1824, which banned American merchants above
54° 40' north latitude, was widely ignored and the Russians' hold on Alaska
At the height of Russian America, the Russian population reached 700.
Although the mid–19th century were not a good time for Russians in Alaska,
conditions improved for the coastal Alaska Natives who had survived contact.
The Tlingits were never conquered and continued to wage war on the Russians
into the 1850s. The Aleuts, though faced with a decreasing population in the
1840s, ultimately rebounded.
Financial difficulties in Russia, the desire to keep Alaska out of British
hands, and the low profits of trade with Alaskan settlements all contributed
to Russia's willingness to sell its possessions in North America. At the
instigation of U.S. Secretary of State William Seward, the United States
Senate approved the purchase of Alaska from Russia for $7,200,000. on August
1, 1867. This purchase was popularly known in the U.S. as "Seward's Folly,",
"Seward's Icebox," or "Andrew Johnson's Polar Bear Garden", and was unpopular
at the time, though the later discovery of gold and oil would show it to be a
After Russian America was sold to the U.S., all the holdings of the
Russian–American Company were liquidated.
The Department of Alaska (1867-1884)
The United States flag was raised on October 18, 1867 (now called Alaska Day).
Changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, for
residents, Friday, October 6, 1867 was followed by Friday, October 18,
1867—two Fridays in a row because of the date line shift.
During the Department era, from 1867 to 1884, Alaska was variously under the
jurisdiction of the U.S. Army (until 1877), the United States Department of
the Treasury (from 1877 until 1879) and the U.S. Navy (from 1879 until 1884).
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.
District of Alaska (1884-1912)
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 dedicate 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. No history of
Alaska would be complete without mention of Soapy Smith, the crime boss
confidence man who operated the largest criminal empire in gold rush era
Alaska, until he was shot down by vigilantes in the famed Shootout on Juneau
Wharf. Today, he is known as "Alaska's Outlaw."
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.
Alaska Territory (1912-1959)
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. Even President 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.
Then, in 1920, the Jones Act required U.S.-flagged vessels to be built in the
United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and documented under the laws of the
United States. All goods entering or leaving Alaska had to be transported by
American carriers and shipped to Seattle prior to further shipment, making
Alaska dependent on Washington. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the
provision of the Constitution saying one state should not hold sway over
another's commerce did not apply because Alaska was only a territory. The
prices Seattle shipping businesses charged began to rise to take advantage of
the situation. This situation created an atmosphere of enmity among Alaskans
who watched the wealth being generated by their labors flowing into the hands
of Seattle business holdings.
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 of Alaska's could handle settler life there. The United Congo
Improvement Association asked the president to settle 400 African-American
farmers in Alaska, saying that the territory would offer full political
rights, but racial prejudice and the belief that only those from northern
states would make suitable colonists caused the proposal to fail.
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.
World War II
During World War II, two of the outer Aleutian Islands—Attu and Kiska—were
invaded and occupied by Japanese troops. They were the only part of the
continental territory of the United States to be occupied by the enemy during
the war. Their recovery became a matter of national pride.
On June 3, 1942, the Japanese launched an air attack on Dutch Harbor, a U.S.
naval base on Unalaska Island, but were repelled by U.S. forces. A few days
later, the Japanese landed on the islands of Kiska and Attu, where they
overwhelmed Attu villagers. The villagers were taken to Japan, where they
were interned for the remainder of the war. Aleuts from the Pribilofs and
Aleutian villages were evacuated by the United States to Southeast Alaska.
Attu was regained in May 1943 after two weeks of intense fighting and 3,929
American casualties: 549 killed, 1148 injured and 1200 severe cold injuries,
614 to disease and 318 dead of miscellaneous causes, The U.S. then turned its
attention to the other occupied island, Kiska. From June through August, tons
of bombs were dropped on the tiny island, though the Japanese ultimately
escaped via transport ships. After the war, the Native Attuans who had
survived their internment were resettled to Atka by the federal government,
which considered their home villages too remote to defend.
In 1942, the Alaska–Canada Military Highway was completed, in part to form an
overland supply route to the Soviet Union on the other side of the Bering
Strait. Running from Great Falls, Montana, to Fairbanks, the road was the
first stable link between Alaska and the rest of America. The construction of
military bases, such as the Adak base, contributed to the population growth
of some Alaskan cities. Anchorage almost doubled in size, from 4,200 people
in 1940 to 8,000 in 1945.
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 7,
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.
Alaska has no counties, as do other states, except for Louisiana which has
parishes, in the United States. Instead, it is divided into 16 boroughs and
one "unorganized borough" made up of all land not within any borough.
Boroughs have organized area-wide governments, but within the unorganized
borough, where there is no such government, services are provided by the
state. The unorganized borough is divided into artificially-created census
areas by the United States Census Bureau for statistical purposes only.
On March 27, 1964 the Good Friday Earthquake struck South-central Alaska,
churning the earth for four minutes with a magnitude of 9.2. The earthquake
was one of the most powerful ever recorded and killed 139 people. Most of
them were drowned by the tsunamis that tore apart the towns of Valdez and
Chenega. Throughout the Prince William Sound region, towns and ports were
destroyed and land was uplifted or shoved downward. The uplift destroyed
salmon streams, as the fish could no longer jump the various newly created
barriers to reach their spawning grounds. Ports at Valdez and Cordova were
beyond repair, and the fires destroyed what the mudslides had not. At Valdez,
an Alaska Steamship Company ship was lifted by a huge wave over the docks and
out to sea, but most hands survived. At Turnagain Arm, off Cook Inlet, the
incoming water destroyed trees and caused cabins to sink into the mud. On
Kodiak, a tidal wave wiped out the villages of Afognak, Old Harbor, and
Kaguyak and damaged other communities, while Seward lost its harbor. Despite
the extent of the catastrophe, Alaskans rebuilt many of the communities.
North to the Future
"North to the Future" is the official state motto of Alaska, adopted in 1967
for the centennial of the Alaska Purchase. As one of the events leading up to
the celebration, the Alaska Centennial Commission sponsored a contest in 1963
to come up with a centennial motto and emblem that would express the unique
character of the State of Alaska. They offered a $300.00 (which is about
$2000 in 2010 dollars) prize to the winning entry. 761 entries were
received by the Commission. In December 1963, the commission announced that
they had selected Juneau journalist Richard Peter's suggestion. He stated
that the motto "...is a reminder that beyond the horizon of urban clutter
there is a Great Land beneath our flag that can provide a new tomorrow for
this century's 'huddled masses yearning to be free'." The motto represents a
visionary optimism for a state filled with promise; promoting the State of
Alaska by advising that the future lies with the next-to-the-last United
States star located to the north of the Lower 48.
1968 – present: oil and land politics
Oil discovery, ANSCA, and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline
The 1968 discovery of oil on the North Slope's Prudhoe Bay--which would turn
out to have the most recoverable oil of any field in the United States—would
change Alaska's political landscape for decades.
This discovery catapulted the issue of Native land ownership into the
headlines. In the mid-1960s, Alaska Natives from many tribal groups had
united in an effort to gain title to lands wrested from them by Europeans,
but the government had responded slowly before the Prudhoe Bay discovery. The
government finally took action when permitting for a pipeline crossing the
state, necessary to get Alaskan oil to market, was stalled pending the
settlement of Native land claims.
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. The
settlement was divided among regional, urban, and village corporations, which
managed their funds with varying degrees of success.
Though a pipeline from the North Slope to the nearest ice-free port, almost
800 miles (1,300 km) to the south, was the only way to get Alaska's oil to
market, significant engineering challenges lay ahead. Between the North Slope
and Valdez, there were active fault lines, three mountain ranges, miles of
unstable, boggy ground underlain with frost, and migration paths of caribou
and moose. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline was ultimately completed in 1977 at a
total cost of $8 billion.
The pipeline allowed an oil bonanza to take shape. Per capita incomes rose
throughout the state, with virtually every community benefiting. State
leaders were determined that this boom would not end like the fur and gold
booms, in an economic bust as soon as the resource had disappeared. In 1976,
the state's constitution was amended to establish the Alaska Permanent Fund,
in which a quarter of all mineral lease proceeds is invested. Income from the
fund is used to pay annual dividends to all residents who qualify, to
increase the fund's principal as a hedge against inflation, and to provide
funds for the state legislature. Since 1993, the fund has produced more money
than the Prudhoe Bay oil fields, whose production is diminishing. In March
2005, the fund's value was over $30 billion.
Environmentalism, the Exxon-Valdez, and ANWR
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 I, when
men 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.
With tourism more vital to the economy, environmentalism also rose in
importance. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of
1980 added 53.7 million acres (217,000 km²) to the National Wildlife Refuge
system, parts of 25 rivers to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers system, 3.3
million acres (13,000 km²) to National Forest lands, and 43.6 million acres
(176,000 km²) to National Park land. Because of the Act, Alaska now contains
two-thirds of all American national parklands. Today, more than half of
Alaskan land is owned by the Federal Government.
The possible environmental repercussions of oil production became clear in
the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. On March 24, the tanker Exxon Valdez ran
aground in Prince William Sound, releasing 11 million gallons of crude oil
into the water, spreading along 1,100 miles (1,800 km) of shoreline.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, at least 300,000 sea birds,
2,000 otters, and other marine animals died because of the spill. Exxon spent
US$2 billion on cleaning up in the first year alone. Exxon, working with
state and federal agencies, continued its cleanup into the early 1990s.
Government studies show that the oil and the cleaning process itself did
long-term harm to the ecology of the Sound, interfering with the reproduction
of birds and animals in ways that still aren't fully understood. Prince
William Sound seems to have recuperated, but scientists still dispute the
extent of the recovery. In a civil settlement, Exxon agreed to pay $900
million in ten annual payments, plus an additional $100 million for newly
discovered damages. In a class action suit against Exxon, a jury awarded
punitive damages of US$5 billion, but as of 2008 no money has been disbursed
and appellate litigation continues.
Today, the tension between preservation and development is seen in the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) drilling controversy. The question of whether
to allow drilling for oil in ANWR has been a political football for every
sitting American president since Jimmy Carter. Studies performed by the US
Geological Survey have shown that the "1002 area" of ANWR, located just east
of Prudhoe Bay, contains large deposits of crude oil. Traditionally, Alaskan
residents, trade unions, and business interests have supported drilling in
the refuge, while environmental groups and many within the Democratic Party
have traditionally opposed it. Among native Alaskan tribes, support is mixed.
In the 1990s and first decade of the 21st century, votes about the status of
the refuge occurred repeatedly in the U.S. House and Senate, but as of 2007
efforts to allow drilling have always been ultimately thwarted by filibusters,
amendments, or vetoes.
Notable historical figures
Clarence L. Andrews (1862–1948), civil servant in Alaska during the early
20th century, also a journalist, author, photographer and historian with a
focus on Russian America.
Alexandr Baranov (1746–1819), Russian trader and governor of Alaska.
Edward Lewis "Bob" Bartlett (1904–1968), grew up in Fairbanks, was territorial
delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives 1945-1959, and United States
Senator from 1959 until his death. There are a substantial number of places
throughout the state named for him.
Benny Benson (1913–1972), Alaska Native from Chignik. Designed Alaska's flag
at age 13 as a resident of the Jesse Lee Home.
Vitus Bering (1681–1741), Danish explorer for the Russians, the first
European to reach Alaska.
Charles E. Bunnell (1878–1956), territorial federal judge, first president of
the University of Alaska.
John B. "Jack" Coghill (born 1925), merchant from Nenana. Held territorial or
state elected offices spanning a period of over 40 years, including
Lieutenant Governor 1990-1994. One of three surviving delegates to Alaska's
constitutional convention 1955-1956.
Jimmy Doolittle (1896–1993), James Harold "Jimmy" Doolittle grew up in Nome,
was a distinguished general in the United States Army Air Forces during World
War II, including earning the Medal of Honor.
Wyatt Earp (1848–1929), lived in Alaska from 1897 to 1901, built the Dexter
Saloon in Nome.
William A. Egan (1914–1984), native of Valdez. Merchant, mayor and legislator.
President of Alaska's constitutional convention 1955-1956, "Alaska-Tennessee
Plan" (shadow) United States Senator 1956-1958, and following proclamation of
statehood, the first and fourth governor of Alaska 1959-1966 and 1970-1974.
Carl Ben Eielson (1897–1929), pioneering aviator.
Vic Fischer (born 1924), another surviving delegate to Alaska's constitutional
convention (the third is Seaborn J. Buckalew, Jr., born 1920). Retired
professor and researcher at the University of Alaska Anchorage, state senator
Ernest Henry Gruening (1887–1974), veteran journalist on the east coast of
the United States and bureaucrat in the FDR administration, was appointed
Governor of the Territory of Alaska in 1939, and served until 1953. He was
one of the new state of Alaska's first two United States Senators, serving
until 1969. Chiefly known as a Senator for one of two votes again the Gulf of
Jay Hammond (1922–2005), resided for the better part of 50 years in rural
southwest Alaska. Mayor and legislator. Fifth Governor of Alaska 1974-1982,
during the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and the rapid
changes in state government which followed, including the Permanent Fund and
its dividend program. Also known for his conservationist views and a unique
way with words.
B. Frank Heintzleman (1888–1965), official with the U.S. Forest Service in
Alaska, appointed territorial governor and served during the height of
activity on obtaining statehood for Alaska.
Saint Herman of Alaska (1756–1837), Russian missionary, first Eastern
Orthodox saint in North America.
Walter Hickel (1919–2010), real estate developer/industrialist. Governor
1966-1969, resigned to become U.S. Secretary of the Interior under President
Nixon, elected to another term as governor 1990, served until 1994.
Sheldon Jackson (1834–1909), an American missionary of the Presbyterian
Church and educator, also instrumental in introducing reindeer to Alaska from
Siberia. The educational institute he established in Sitka for Native youths
became the Sheldon Jackson Museum and College (the latter now closed).
Joseph Juneau (1836–1899), and Richard Harris (1833–1907), prospectors and
founders of what is now Alaska's capital city, Juneau.
Austin Eugene "Cap" Lathrop (1865–1950), industrialist, founder of some of
Alaska's oldest radio stations and builder of currently recognized historic
architecture. Produced The Chechahcos, the first movie produced in Alaska.
Lathrop's feud with Gruening over statehood issues spawned the novel and film
Loren Leman (born 1950), Lieutenant Governor 2002-2006, the first Alaska
Native elected to statewide office.
Ray Mala (1906–1952), the first Native American and first Alaskan to become a
film star. He starred in MGM's Eskimo/Mala the Magnificent, which was filmed
entirely on location in Alaska. His son, Dr. Ted Mala, became an influential
Alaska Native physician, and was also Commissioner of Health and Social
Services during Hickel's second governorship.
Eva McGown (1883–1972), Fairbanks hostess and chorister. Also the basis for a
character in Ice Palace.
John Muir (1838–1914), naturalist, explorer, and conservationist who detailed
his journeys throughout Alaska. Was instrumental, along with Gifford Pinchot,
in establishing the first wilderness and forest preserves in Alaska during
the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.
William Oefelein (born 1965), Alaska's first astronaut. His first mission,
STS-116. Commander Oefelein, who attended West Anchorage High School,
received his commission from Aviation Officer Candidate School in 1988.
Sarah Palin (born 1964), Alaska's youngest Governor, first female Governor
and Republican Vice Presidential nominee in 2008.
Elizabeth Peratrovich (1911–1958), a Alaska Native of Tlingit heritage who
fought for passage of non-discrimination laws for Natives and is honored with
"Elizabeth Peratrovich Day."
Tex Rickard (1870–1929), like Wyatt Earp, also a major figure in the Nome
Gold Rush c. 1900-1901, and better known for exploits elsewhere.
George Sharrock (1910–2005), moved to the territory before statehood,
eventually elected as the mayor of Anchorage and served during the Good
Friday Earthquake in March 1964. This was the most devastating earthquake to
hit Alaska and it sunk beach property, damaged roads and destroyed buildings
all over the south central area. Sharrock, sometimes called the "earthquake
mayor," led the city's rebuilding effort over six months.
Soapy Smith (1860–1898), Jefferson Randolph Smith, "Alaska's Outlaw." The
infamous confidence man and early settler, who ran the goldrush town of
Skagway, Alaska, 1897-98.
Ted Stevens (1923–2010), United States Senator from Alaska 1968-2009, the
longest service of any Republican member. Was originally appointed by Hickel
following Bartlett's death, and re-elected seven times before losing
re-election in 2008 as he faced a corruption trial. Widely known as a Senator
as an often loud and angry advocate for Alaska. Died in a plane crash near
Fran Ulmer (born 1947), Lieutenant Governor 1994-2002, the first woman
elected to statewide office in Alaska, later became chancellor of the
University of Alaska Anchorage.
Saint Innocent of Alaska (1797–1879), First Russian Orthodox bishop in North
Joe Vogler (1913–1993), advocate of secession for Alaska, founder of the
Alaskan Independence Party, multiple time unsuccessful candidate for governor.
Noel Wien (1899–1977), pioneering aviator, founder of Wien Air Alaska, first
to make a round trip between Alaska and Asia.
Ferdinand von Wrangell (1797–1870), explorer, president of the
Russian-American Company in 1840-1849.
History of Alaska, by period
Prehistory of Alaska
History of slavery in Alaska
Russian Alaska, 1741 – 1867 Great Northern Expedition, 1733 – 1743
Spanish expeditions to Alaska, 1744 – 1791
U.S. Department of Alaska, 1867 – 1884 Alaska Purchase, treaty signed on
March 30, 1867
Gold mining in Alaska Klondike Gold Rush, 1896 – 1899
Alaska boundary dispute, 1896 – 1903
District of Alaska, 1884 – 1912 Hay-Herbert Treaty, arbitration committee
resolution occurred October 20, 1903
Territory of Alaska, 1912 – 1959 World War I, June 28, 1914 – November 11,
1918 United States enters Great War on April 6, 1917
Mount McKinley National Park established on February 26, 1917
Serum run to Nome, January 26 - February 15, 1925
World War II, September 1, 1939 – September 2, 1945 Alaska World War II Army
Alaska Defense Command established February 4, 1941
United States enters Second World War on December 8, 1941
Aleutian Islands Campaign, June 3, 1942 – August 15, 1943
Alaska Highway completed 1942
Alaskan Air Command established December 18, 1945
State of Alaska becomes 49th state admitted to the United States of America
on January 3, 1959 Arctic National Wildlife Refuge established on December 6,
Good Friday Earthquake of 1964
Prudhoe Bay oil field discovered 1968
Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971
Trans-Alaska Pipeline System completed 1977
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge drilling controversy since 1977
Mount McKinley National Park incorporated into Denali National Park and
Preserve on December 2, 1980
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve established on December 2, 1980
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve established on December 2, 1980
Katmai National Park and Preserve established on December 2, 1980
Kenai Fjords National Park established on December 2, 1980
Kobuk Valley National Park established on December 2, 1980
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve established on December 2, 1980
Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve established on December 2, 1980
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge expanded on December 2, 1980
Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989
Return to Alaska Home Page