On January 3, 1959, Alaska was admitted to the United States as the 49th state. The population of the state is 626,932, as of 2000. The name "Alaska" is most likely derived from the Aleut word for "great country" or "mainland." The natives called it "Alyeska", meaning "the great land." It is bordered by the Yukon Territory and British Columbia, Canada to the east, the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean to the south, the Bering Sea, Bering Strait, and Chukchi Sea to the west, and the Beaufort Sea and the Arctic Ocean to the north.
Alaska was probably first settled by peoples who came there across the Bering Land Bridge. Eventually, Alaska became populated by the Inuit and a variety of Native American groups. Most, if not all, of the pre-Columbian population of the Americas probably took this route and continued further south and east.
The first written accounts indicate that the first Europeans to reach Alaska came from Russia. Vitus Bering sailed east and saw Mt. St. Elias. The Russian-American Company hunted otters for their fur. The colony was never very profitable, because of the costs of transportation.
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 9 April 1867, and the United States flag was raised on 18 October of that same year (now called Alaska Day). The first American administrator of Alaska was Włodzimierz Krzyżanowski. The purchase was not popular in the continental United States, where Alaska became known as "Seward's Folly" or "Seward's Icebox". Alaska celebrates the purchase each year on the last Monday of March, calling it Seward's Day.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Alaska Statehood Act into United States law on 7 July 1958 which paved the way for Alaska's admission into the Union.
In 1976, the people of Alaska amended the state's constitution, establishing the Alaska Permanent Fund. The fund invests a portion of the state's mineral revenue, including revenue from the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System, 'to benefit all generations of Alaskans.' In March 2005, the fund's value was over $30 billion.
Prior to 1983, the state lay across four different time zones — Pacific Standard Time (UTC −8 hours) in the extreme southeast, a small area of Yukon Standard Time (UTC −9 hours) around Juneau, Alaska-Hawaii Standard Time (UTC −10 hours) in the Anchorage and Fairbanks vicinity, with the Nome area and most of the Aleutian Islands observing Bering Standard Time (UTC −11 hours). In 1983 the number of time zones was reduced to two, with the entire mainland plus the inner Aleutian Islands going to UTC −9 hours (and this zone then being renamed Alaska Standard Time as the Yukon Territory concomitantly adopted Pacific Standard Time), and the remaining Aleutian Islands were slotted into the UTC −10 hours zone, which was then renamed Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time. Also in 1983, Alaska began to observe Daylight Saving Time, when it had not done so previously.
Over the years various vessels have been named USS Alaska, in honor of the state.
During World War II three of the outer Aleutian Islands — Attu, Agattu and Kiska — were occupied by Japanese troops. It was the only part of the United States to have land occupied during the war.
Littke, Peter, Russian-American Bibliography, 2003.
Law and government
The capital of Alaska is Juneau and the current governor of Alaska is Frank H. Murkowski (Republican). Alaska's two U.S. senators are Lisa Murkowski (Republican) and Ted Stevens (Republican). Alaska's Representative is Donald E. Young (Republican).
Alaska has no state income tax or sales tax. Although the Republican Party dominates Alaskan politics, the state is perhaps most accurately described as moderately libertarian rather than conservative. The state's population does not readily identify with the Bible Belt and midwest conservative backbone, as Alaska is generally far less religious  than those areas of the Lower 48. Nonetheless, the state has given its three electoral votes to the Republican candidate in eleven of the twelve (including ten in a row from 1968 through 2004) Presidential elections it has held since statehood. In recent races that have been close nationally, Alaska has not been close at all. George W. Bush defeated Al Gore 59% to 28% in the 2000 election, and bested John Kerry 62% to 35% in the 2004 election. Even when the Democrat wins handily nationwide, Alaska votes decidedly in the other direction (Bob Dole won the state 54% to 35% over Bill Clinton in the 1996 election).
Alaskans benefit from the Alaska Permanent Fund and Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend. The program was established by then Alaskan Governor Jay Hammond in 1976. He decided that the state should give the citizens of Alaska part of the money the state was soon to earn from taxes on oil generated by the Alaskan Pipeline. He forced the legislature to amend the State Constitution. 25% of oil revenue would be put into the fund, and invested, and then some of the income would be given to the citizens. Instead of just handing out the money, though, he put it in the form of an annuity, so the citizens would not squander the money and there would be money in times of low oil prices. Every citizen of Alaska having resided there for at least 18 months receives a dividend in October, provided the Fund has made money that year. In recent years, the fund's payout has averaged $1,000, although in 2000 it reached about $2,000. Alaskans are very protective of the fund, and the amendment strictly prohibits the state government from tapping into it to pay for expenditures. Although the Alaskan Government is in debt, 70% of Alaskans still believe the Fund should not be tampered with.
Alaska ratified federal constitutional amendments to grant DC presidential electors, prohibit the poll tax, establish procedures for filling a vacancy in the office of the vice president, grant suffrage to those eighteen years of age and older, and limit changes in congressional salaries.
Alaska is the only state that is both in North America and not part of the 48 contiguous states. Alaska is the largest state in the United States in terms of land area, 570,374 square miles (1,477,261 km²). If you superimposed a map of Alaska on the Lower 48 states, Alaska would stretch from Minnesota to Texas, and from California to Georgia.
One scheme for describing the state's geography is by labeling the regions:
Alaska, with its numerous islands, has nearly 34,000 miles (54,700 km) of tidal shoreline. The island chain extending west from the southern tip of Alaska is called the Aleutian Islands. Many active volcanoes are found in the Aleutians. For example, Unimak Island is home to Mount Shishaldin, a moderately active volcano that rises to 9,980 ft (3,042 m) above sea level. The chain of volcanoes extends to Mount Spurr, west of Anchorage on the mainland.
Alaska is the Easternmost state in the Union. The Aleutian Islands actually cross longitude 180°.
Much of Alaska is managed by the federal government as national forests, national parks, and national wildlife refuges. There are places in Alaska that are general public lands (BLM land) which are arguably more spectacular than many national parks in the Lower 48. Many of Alaska's state parks would be national parks if they were in other states.
Much of Alaska is managed by corporations called ANCSA, or native, corporations, of which there are thirteen regional ones and dozens of local ones.
See: List of Alaska rivers
Boroughs and census areas
Alaska has no counties in the sense used in the rest of the country; however, the state is divided into 27 census areas and boroughs.
The difference between boroughs and census areas is that boroughs have an organized area-wide government, while census areas are artificial divisions defined by the United States Census Bureau.
The state's 2003 total gross state product was $31 billion. Its per-capita income for 2003 was $33,213, 14th in the nation. Alaska's main agriculture output is seafood, although nursery stock, dairy products, vegetables, and livestock are produced and used internally. Manufacturing is limited, with most foodstuffs and general goods imported from elsewhere. Employment is primarily in government and industries such as natural resource extraction, shipping, and transportation. Its industrial outputs are crude petroleum, natural gas, coal, gold, precious metals, zinc and other mining, seafood processing, timber and wood products. There is also a growing service and tourism sector.
The cost of goods in Alaska has long been higher than in the contiguous 48 states. This has changed for the most part in Anchorage, where the cost of living is actually less than some major cities in the Lower 48, thanks to lower housing and transportation costs. However, rural Alaska suffers from extremely high prices for food and consumer goods due to the lack of transportation infrastructure. Many rural residents come in to Anchorage and purchase food and goods in bulk from warehouse clubs like Costco and Sam's Club. Some have embraced the free shipping offers of some online retailers to purchase items much more cheaply than they could in their own communities, if they are available at all.
Alaska is arguably the least-connected state in terms of road transportation. The state's road system covers a relatively small area of the state, linking the central population centers and the Alaska Highway, the principal route out of the state through Canada. The state capital, Juneau, is not accessible by road, which has spurred several debates over the decades about moving the capital to a city on the road system. One unique feature of the road system is the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, which links the Seward Highway south of Anchorage with the relatively isolated community of Whittier. The tunnel is the longest road tunnel in North America at nearly 2.5 miles and combines a one-lane roadway and train tracks in the same housing. Consequently, eastbound traffic, westbound traffic, and the Alaska Railroad must share the tunnel, resulting in waits of 20 minutes or more to enter.
The Alaska Railroad runs from Seward through Anchorage, Denali, and Fairbanks to North Pole, with spurs to Whittier and Palmer. The railroad is famous for its summertime passenger services but also plays a vital part in moving Alaska's natural resources, such as coal and gravel, to ports in Anchorage, Whittier and Seward. The Alaska Railroad is the only remaining railroad in North America to use cabooses on its freight trains. The route between Talkeetna and Hurricane (an area between Talkeetna and Denali) features the last remaining flag stop train service in the United States. A stretch of the track along an area inaccessible by road serves as the only transportation to cabins in the area. Residents board the train in Talkeetna and tell the conductor where they want to get off. When they want to come back to town, they wait by the side of the tracks and "flag" the train, giving the train its name.
Most cities and villages in the state are accessible only by sea or air. Alaska has a well-developed ferry system, known as the Alaska Marine Highway System, which serves the cities of Southeast and the Alaska Peninsula. The system also operates a ferry service from Bellingham, Washington up the Inside Passage to Haines (several cruise companies offer cruises up the Inside Passage as well, with service all the way to Seward and Whittier). Cities not served by road or sea can only be reached by air, accounting for Alaska's extremely well-developed Bush air services—an Alaskan novelty.
Anchorage itself, and to a lesser extent Fairbanks, are serviced by most major airlines. Air travel is the cheapest and most efficient form of transportation in and out of the state. Anchorage recently completed extensive remodeling and construction at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to help accommodate the upsurge in tourism (unofficial sources have estimated the numbers for 2004 at some four million tourists arriving in Alaska between May and September).
However, Alaska Airlines has a virtual monopoly on jet air travel within the state—meaning airfares are extremely high. The airline offers frequent jet service (sometimes in combination cargo and passenger Boeing 737-200s) from Anchorage and Fairbanks to regional hubs like Bethel, Nome, Kotzebue, Dillingham, Kodiak, and other larger communities as well as to major Southeast and Alaska Peninsula communities. Smaller communities are served by the three main regional commuter airlines: Era Aviation , PenAir , and Frontier Flying Service. The smallest towns and villages must rely on scheduled or chartered Bush flying services using general aviation aircraft such as the Cessna Caravan, the most popular aircraft in use in the state. But perhaps the most quintessentially Alaskan plane is the Bush seaplane. The world's busiest seaplane base is Lake Hood, located next to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, where flights bound for remote villages without an airstrip carry passengers, cargo, and lots of items from Costco.
Another Alaskan transportation method is the dogsled. In modern times, dog mushing is more of a sport than a true means of transportation. Various races are held around the state, but the most well-known is the Iditarod, a 1,150-mile trail from Anchorage to Nome. The race commemorates the famous 1925 serum run to Nome in which mushers and dogs like Balto took much-needed medicine to the diphtheria-stricken community of Nome when all other means of transportation had failed. Mushers from all over the world come to Anchorage each March to compete for cash prizes and prestige.
As of 2003, the population of Alaska was 648,818.
51.7% is male, and 48.3% is female.
Racially, the state is:
The six largest ethnic groups in the state are: German (16.6%), Alaska Native (15.6%), Irish (10.8%), English (9.6%), American (5.7%), Norwegian (4.2%).
As of 2000 85.7% of Alaska residents age 5 and older speak English at home and 5.2% speak Native American languages. Spanish speakers make up 2.9% of the population, followed by Tagalog speakers at 1.5% and Korean speakers at 0.8%.
Alaska has long had a problem with "brain drain" as many of its young people, including most of the highest academic achievers, leave the state upon graduating high school. The state has tried to combat this by offering 4 year scholarships to the top 10 percent of Alaska high school graduates.
The National Statuary Hall of the United States of America is part of the Capitol in Washington DC. Each state has selected one or two distinguished citizens and provided statues. Alaska's are of its first two senators:
The first woman elected to statewide office was Fran Ulmer, elected as Lieutenant Governor in 1994.
Honorae V. Dale
Books about Alaska
The T. Coraghessan Boyle novel Drop City (2003, ISBN 0670031720) tells the story of a group of Hippies who relocate to Alaska.
Marcia Simpson (d. 2003) has written three books which describe what it is like to live in a small coastal community in Alaska: Rogue's Yarn (2003, ISBN 0425191982), Crow in Stolen Colors (2000, ISBN 1890208361) and Sound Tracks (2001, ISBN 1890208728).
James Michener wrote Alaska.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is the true story of Christopher McCandless, a college graduate and top student, who donated his entire $24,000 savings account to charity and moved into the Alaskan wilderness. 1997, ISBN 0385486804
Bob Cherry has written two books, "Spirit of the Raven: An Alaskan Novel" (ISBN 0966543068) and "inua" (ISBN 0966543017). "Spirit of the Raven" is set during Alaska's territorial days and examines the interactions of a culturally diverse group of characters brought together by a murder. "inua" is set after Alaskan statehood and again examines the intersection of cultures and the impact on the traditional Native Alaskan family.
Gore Vidal based his first novel, Williwaw , on his military experiences in the Alaskan Harbor Detachment .
Important cities and towns
Alaska's most populous city is Anchorage, home of 260,284 people, 225,744 of whom live in the urbanized area. It ranks third in the List of U.S. cities by area, behind two other Alaskan cities. Sitka ranks as America's largest city by area, followed closely by Juneau.
25 Richest Places in Alaska
Ranked by per capita income
1 Halibut Cove, Alaska $89,895
2 Chicken, Alaska $65,400
3 Edna Bay, Alaska $58,967
4 Sunrise, Alaska $56,000
5 Lowell Point, Alaska $45,790
6 Petersville, Alaska $43,200
7 Coldfoot, Alaska $42,620
8 Port Clarence, Alaska $35,286
9 Hobart Bay, Alaska $34,900
10 Red Dog Mine, Alaska $34,348
11 Adak, Alaska $31,747
12 Meyers Chuck, Alaska $31,660
13 Pelican, Alaska $29,347
14 Ester, Alaska $29,155
15 Chignik Lagoon, Alaska $28,941
16 Four Mile Road, Alaska $28,465
17 Healy, Alaska $28,225
18 Moose Pass, Alaska $28,147
19 Cube Cove, Alaska $27,920
20 Womens Bay, Alaska $27,746
21 Skagway, Alaska $27,700
22 Nelson Lagoon, Alaska $27,596
23 Valdez, Alaska $27,341
24 McKinley Park, Alaska $27,255
25 Attu Station, Alaska $26,964
See complete list of Alaska places
Colleges and Universities