Alaska State History
Summary of Alaska's state history - learn how this wildly, beautiful region became part of the United States.
The first men to reach Alaska were from Russia. Vitus Bering and Aleksey Chirikov founded the barren and frozen region in 1741. Russian fur traders followed the explorers and established make shift camps. Grigori Shelekohv founded the first permanent settlement on Kodiak Island in 1784. From 1700 to 1817 the area was dominated by Aleksandr Baranov, who extended fur trade south to California.
The British American conflict ended in negotiated settlement of the southern boundary in 1824. The United States purchased Alaska in 1867 through the efforts of W. H Seward. Secretary of State Seward, who served from 1861 to 1869, aggressively pushed and expansive foreign policy. He developed a vision of an American empire stretching south in Latin America and west to the shores of Asia. Seward wanted Canada and Mexico, islands in the Caribbean as strategic bases to protect a canal across the isthmus, and Hawaii as well as other islands as stepping stones to Asia. After trying unsuccessfully to negotiate a commercial treaty with Hawaii in 1867, the same year he annexed the Midway islands, he concluded a treaty with Russia for the purchase of Alaska partly to sandwich western Canada between American territory and lead to its annexation.
The first government was established in 1884 after gold was discovered in Juneau area. Gold strikes, including one in Nome in 1899 and Fairbanks in 1902 followed the 1896 Klondike strike and brought prospectors and adventurers to the area. The boundaries for Alaska were set in 1903.
Several islands owned by the USSR and United States near the Bering Straits created voyages that revealed a fur seal wealth. From the mid 18th century the unregulated slaughter of the animals soon threatened their extinction. Protection of the seals became the subject of the Bering Sea Fur-Seal Controversy in 1886. An international dispute broke out over open sea sealing and in 1893 a Court of arbitration declared against the United States claim to control all of the Bering Sea. Damages were paid to seized Canadian vessels and an international agreement gave the United States supervision of seal summering places in the Pribilof Islands. The agreement prohibited pelagic sealing and forbade altogether the killing of sea otters. For several years sealing stopped all together, but later resumed under careful restrictions. The Bering Sea Fur-Seal Controversy was settled in 1911. Alaska became part of the United States territory in 1912.
The Alaska area was strategic in Second World War. Improved transportation, defense bases and successful arctic farming have contributed to its rapid development. Alaska became the 49th state to join the Union in 1959. The Capitol is Juneau. Severe earthquakes in 1964 devastated a broad area of the state. The State Bird is the Willow Ptarmigan and the State Flower is the Forget Me Not.