Alaska is the 49th added state to the United States. It is located west of Canada, and like Hawaii, it has no common border with any other U.S. state (although it is part of the continent of North America).
Alaska is big. Like, really big. Three(ish)-times the size of Texas big. Most know it is cold, which it is, but summers get very hot, much to the
suffering delight of those living in Fairbanks. Alaskan terrain varies from windy islands in the southwest, to rainy islands in the southeast. The central and south-central areas of Alaska are dominated by large spruce forests, with many mountains found as well. The area north of the Brooks Mountain Range is known as the "North Slope" and is a barren tundra home to caribou oil companies. Alaska's history involving the actions of Russian and American settlers regarding indigenous peoples, while not exactly great, is considerably better and less genocidal/ethnocidal than the rest of America. Alaska is largely dependent on oil, fishing, and (much to the irritation of all living there) tourism. Anyone who says Alaska is hospitable is a frozen liar not scared by a little cold.
Whenever your pet dog whines about something just remind them that they are a very lucky dog, and could instead have been born into a different fate where they pull a dogsled across the frozen Alaskan tundra and have to fight with other dogs over scraps of raw meat. Remind your dog that you could very easily ship them off to the frozen wild north where the law of fang and claw rules. Your dog will get the message. Mush! If all else fails, read Jack London short stories to it.
Alaska is also the fishing grounds of such famous vessels as the Northwestern, Billikin, Western Viking, Maverick, Lady Alaska, Time Bandit, Cornelia Marie, Rollo, and Farwest Leader. Crab in da tank is money in da bank, baby! Betcha these guys didn't bargain on being made famous and getting tons of fan mail when they signed on as greenhorns. It was supposed to just be a fishing job dammit, until those meddling moneygrubbers from the Discovery Channel smelled a new reality TV show…
For whatever reason, Alaska is a magnet for those who want to go out in style. If you're really lucky you will be eaten by a big hungry polar bear. The unlucky ones take shelter in an abandoned bus where they starve to death and help Jon Krakauer sell books.
One more thing… the Northern Lights are really trippy, and you don't even need any of the illegal stuff to watch them. A bottle of Yukon Jack will do.
Alaska has come to notice in various ways — it has the highest rate of rape and domestic abuse in the US, it has one of the highest rates of Federal dollars per capita in the US, and likes to elect corrupt beauty queens to various political offices.
Nature in Alaska
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 there. When word reached the lower 48 of a gold strike in Alaska there was a gold rush. Thousands of miners rushed there 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 its largest industries, commercial fishing no longer supplies a significant amount of capital to Alaska. However, in the early years of its 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 clearcut and sold at low prices. At first this industry hardly made a profit, but improved in success through better use of the lumber they cut.
Oil allegedly abounds beneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and an ongoing political battle pits the oil extraction industry against various environmental groups over if, and how, this resource should be exploited.
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 more of the planet's water is tied up in ice caps, 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 (no they didn't, they're called llamas).
To this day Alaskans looking for Vice-Presidential level foreign policy experience can see Russia from their house on Little Diomede Island.
There are more volcanoes in Alaska than anywhere else in the United States; quite a few more than in Hawaii.
Alaska has the tallest mountain in North America, Mount Denali, at over 20,000 feet tall. Denali is located around 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Anchorage. Many hikers in the US go here in lieu of going to Nepal and going up Mount Everest.
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 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, officially the Inupiaq but often known as 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 waterfowl, 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 lifecycle 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
The first Europeans to see Alaska were Russians led by Danish navigator Vitus Bering in 1741. The Russians began harvesting furs from coastal Alaska and introduced European concepts to the Native Alaskans. However they also brought with them a wealth of European diseases. These diseases drastically affected the Native population of Alaska. After some decades, the over-hunting had begun to take its toll on Alaska’s wildlife. For example, Steller's sea cow, first described during the Bering expedition, was hunted to extinction within 30 years. 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 1850s, Russia began to consider selling Alaska because in the aftermath of the Crimean War it was seen as impossible to defend should Britain attack it from Canada.
Under the United States
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 Seward. 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 -- back then, a single U.S. dollar would buy you 3/4 of an ounce of silver -- 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, though this was always a distinct minority position; it was always fairly popular with the American public.
The Klondike gold rush
In the late 19th century, gold was discovered in Alaska, sparking what became known as the Klondike gold rush. Big Sam left Seattle in the year of '92, with George Pratt his partner and brother Billy too. He crossed the Yukon river and found the bonanza gold, below that old white mountain just a little southeast of Nome. (Mush!) Too bad Jenny didn't go with them... 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. Many gold rush towns were later deserted, becoming ghost towns. The rise in population, however, remained, and Alaska soon had several small cities.
Sustainable development 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 Alaska’s early 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 Attu and Kiska, in the Western Aleutians. This invasion represented the first foreign invasion of the United States in about 130 years. On May 11, 1943, 12,500 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 had been stationed. However, they found the island to be abandoned; in the dense fog, the Japanese had managed to slip through a US barricade undetected, a move so bold and difficult that US commanders would not believe it occurred. Nevertheless, in the process of reclaiming the territory over 300 American soldiers were killed, by traps the Japanese had left behind and by the harsh Alaskan weather.
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 role 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. Alaska was added as a state alongside Hawaii as a compromise between the two parties, as Alaska was expected to be a Democratic state (one of their first senators, Ernest Gruening (pronounced "Greening"), was one of the most progressive legislators of the time) while Hawaii was expected to go Republican. As we all know, that's not really how things turned out.
Modern Alaskan 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 Mike Dunleavy. The Governor is elected with a Lieutenant Governor. The current Lieutenant Governor is Kevin Meyer, 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.
Then came whatshername. When McCain picked her, it was reported that her favorability rating in Alaska was in the '70s or '80s. This was a mirage, given that the state was awash in oil money (it was $100-125 per barrel) which allowed her to hand out $1,200 apiece. Hard to have a negative view of someone who's giving you free cash. She didn't even serve a whole term in office before she left to bask in her new-found celebrity, making millions of bucks giving empty, trite speeches to mouth breathing idiots all over the country. She's a fickle contradiction of a person and it's shameful that she's become synonymous with Alaska and turned it a laughingstock. (If you want to see something amazing, go watch her State of the State address when Governor, and compare it with the coherence of anything she says now.)
Also, Senator Ted Stevens, convicted on corruption charges then let off scot-free (though in fairness the prosecutors seemed to be going for the record for prosecutorial misconduct), but replaced in the Senate by Mark Begich. Alaska is also the only state that gave double-digit percentages to Libertarian Party candidate Ed Clark in 1980 and Ralph Nader in 2000. 'Nuff said.
Location of capital
The Alaskan capital is currently in Juneau, but there is some dispute over the location of the capital. One basis for the arguments to relocate the capital is the fact that Juneau is in southeast Alaska, on land accessible only by ferry or aircraft. Proposed locations for the capital have been Anchorage, the largest city, Fairbanks, which is close to the geographic center of Alaska, and Willow, which is in the middle of nowhere. The popular vote, however, has so far kept the capital in Juneau.
The Exxon Valdez (not pronounced "valdeez"!) 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 harbor 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.
- Bird: Willow ptarmigan
- Motto: "North to the Future"
- Tree: Sitka spruce
- Mineral: Gold
- Flower: Forget-me-not
- Fish: King salmon
- Fossil: Woolly mammoth
- Gem: Jade
- Insect: Four-spot skimmer dragonfly
- Land mammal: Moose
- Marine mammal: Bowhead whale
- Song: "Alaska's Flag"
- Alaska has more coastline than the rest of the US combined.
- Alaska has a population density of ~1 person per square mile.
- (for women): The odds are good but the goods are odd.
- (for men): If you don't already have a job in Alaska, DON'T GO. (or so the signs in Seattle's ferry terminal said...but did any of us listen? HA!)
- Mike Gravel
- Lisa Murkowski
- Sarah Palin
- Bob Ross took much inspiration from his time in Fairbanks, where he did his military service, though he was from Florida and only became famous after leaving Alaska
- Ted Stevens
- Timothy Treadwell, summer visitor, filmmaker, and bear food
- Alaska's Crisis: Soaring Rates of Rape and Domestic Violence
- The last time Congress created a new state, Constitution Center 12 Mar 2021
- Alaska Residents Cash in on Annual Dividend", Associated Press via NBC (Updated 5 September 2008 at 5:34 PM ET).