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Alaska History: 6 Events That Shaped the State

Image: Alaska History: 6 Events That Shaped the State
Mountainside Tunnel Alaska; Alaska State Map and Flag. (Dollarphotoclub)

By    |   Monday, 23 Feb 2015 11:31 PM

The history of Alaska, the country's northern-most state and home to icebergs and beautiful scenery, was first discovered and explored by Russia in the 18th century.

The land had been settled for thousands of years by Eskimos, who greeted the Russian explorers with arrows before meeting with expedition leader Mikhail Gvodzev, according to Alaska History & Cultural Studies.

The state was "officially" discovered on Gvodzev's second expedition in 1741. It wasn't until 1867 that Alaska became part of the United States. The area was purchased by William Henry Seward, Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State.

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The United States paid 2 cents an acre for the new state, a total of $7.2 million. Seward, who worked hard to orchestrate the purchase, was often made fun of, and many called Alaska "Seward's folly" or "Seward's icebox."

Time would prove them wrong. Here are six facts about the state's history after it became part of the United States, eventually recognized as a state on Jan. 3, 1959:

1. "For three decades after its purchase the United States paid little attention to Alaska, which was governed under military, naval, or Treasury rule or, at times, no visible rule at all," says the U.S. Department of State. The discovery of a "major" gold deposit in 1896 changed all that when Alaska became the entrance to the Klondike gold fields.

2. Rumors of gold strikes grew in Alaska starting in 1848, drawing people to the U.S. territory and creating small gold rushes. Gold prospectors in California began to move north, and Alaska's first mining district was created in 1879. Miner John Treadwell found gold on Douglas Island and created the Alaska Treadwell Gold Mining Co. From 1887 through 1917, his company pulled $67 million of gold from the area. The Great Klondike Gold Rush started in 1847.

3. Much of Alaska's land was conserved when federal government officials attempted to avoid mistakes made in the western United States, retaining control of 99 percent of the land until statehood was established, calling it a "new conservationist ethic." "In 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt halted coal leases on public lands in Alaska, part of a long and complicated argument about whether one large company was trying to gain an unfair advantage and exploit a public resource," says AHCS. Lawsuits in the mid-1900s carved out lands for Alaska tribes, which led to the Alaska Native land claims movement.

4. Alaska had significant "strategic importance" for the U.S. during World War II. "The fortification of Alaska became an urgent national priority after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December7, 1941," says AHCS. People were afraid that Alaska would be used as a stepping stone to attack the mainland. From then on, military issues were a priority for the federal government.

5. Oil is, of course, a significant part of Alaska's history, both during its time as a territory and today. In the 1890s, the first oil claims were filed in the territory and it wasn't until 1920 that Congress established an act to control mineral leasing there. "Alaska was changed dramatically and probably permanently with the discovery of North America's largest oil field at Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Coast in 1967," says AHCS. "Huge amounts of money began to flow into the state with the construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline in 1974, and production in the field in 1977. Since that time smaller, connected fields have added to the production on the North Slope. For three decades, Alaska's North Slope has produced about 20 percent of the domestic oil used in the United States."

6. In the 1980s, Congress took a strong step to protect Alaska's environment with the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, called ANILCA. That move turned 104 million acres in the state into protected areas, such as parks and preserves. Fifty million acres were left as wilderness.

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The history of Alaska, the country's northern-most state and home to icebergs and beautiful scenery, was first discovered and explored by Russia in the 18th century.
Alaska History, Icebergs, Eskimos
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2015-31-23
Monday, 23 Feb 2015 11:31 PM
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