History of Alaska:

"Alaska" came from an Aleut word for "great land" though some believe the Aleut word meant "mainland" referred to it by those residing on the Alaska Peninsula. Scientist and surveyor William Healey Dall wrote in 1870. Alaska today refers to the entire state as well as the Peninsula. During World War II, the strategic importance of Alaska was belatedly recognized. In June 1942, the Japanese occupied the islands of Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians; it took U.S. forces 15 months to dislodge them. To circumvent a threat to Alaskan sea lanes, the army built the Alaska Highway, connecting Alaska with British Columbia, in 1942. In 1980, Congress passed the Alaska Lands Bill, which excluded more than 104 million acres in the state from commercial development. Many Alaskans opposed what they felt were unjustifiable federal attempts to limit exploitation of the state's resources, but calls for secession were rejected. One of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history occurred in March 1989, when an Exxon tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, spilling more than 10 million gallons of oil.
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Russian Colonization: The disastrous voyage of Vitus Bering and Aleksey Chirikov in 1741 began the march of Russian traders across Siberia. The survivors who returned with sea otter skins started a rush of fur hunters to the Aleutian Islands. Grigori Shelekhov in 1784 founded the first permanent settlement in Alaska on Kodiak Island and sent (1790) to Alaska the man who was to dominate the period of Russian influence there, Aleksandr Baranov.

Early Years as a U.S. Possession: In 1867, Russia sold Alaska to the United States for $7,200,000. The U.S. purchase was accomplished solely through the determined efforts of Secretary of State William H. Seward, and for many years afterward the land was derisively called Seward's Folly or Seward's Icebox because of its supposed uselessness.

The Gold Rush: Paradoxically, the first gold finds that tremendously influenced Alaska were in Canada. The Klondike strike of 1896 brought a stampede, mainly of Americans, and most of them came through Alaska. The big discoveries in Alaska itself followed-Nome in 1898-99, Fairbanks in 1902. The miners and prospectors (the sourdoughs) took over Alaska, and the era of the mining camps reached its height; a criminal code was belatedly applied in 1899.

Territorial Status: Juneau officially replaced Sitka as capital in 1900, but it did not begin to function as such until 1906. In the same year Alaska was finally awarded a territorial representative in Congress. A new era began for Alaska when local government was established in 1912 and it became a U.S. territory. The building of the Alaska RR from Seward to Fairbanks was commenced with government funds in 1915.

Statehood to the Present: In 1958, Alaskans approved statehood by a 5 to 1 vote, and on Jan. 3, 1959, Alaska was officially admitted into the Union as a state, the first since Arizona in 1912. On Mar. 27, 1964, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in North America occurred in Alaska, taking approximately 114 lives and causing extensive property damage.

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