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The state of Alaska is the 49th state in the United States, having been admitted into the Union in 1959. Located in the extreme northwest corner of the North American continent, it is surrounded by the Arctic Ocean and Beaufort Sea to the North; Canada’s Yukon Territory and province of British Columbia to the east; the Gulf of Alaska and Pacific Ocean to the south; the Bering Sea and Bearing Strait to the west; and the Chukchi Sea to the Northwest. In 1866, Russia offered to sell its territory which is Alaska to the United States. Secretary of State William Seward, who viewed the acquisition of Alaska as an important part of Manifest Destiny. So the agreement was made, and the United States paid $7.2 million, which is approximately two cents an acre. Americans believed that the land would be good for nothing, but in 1897, news reached the west coast of the United States that gold had been discovered during the summer of 1895 in the Klondike during the Klondike Gold Rush which is also called the Last Great Gold Rush, the Yukon Gold Rush, and the Alaska Gold Rush. It is estimated that 100,000 people set out to prospect in Alaska, but only 30,000 made it to the Klondike. Many of those who didn’t get there gave up because of the grave hardships they met along the journey. Others died as the result of extremely cold temperatures. Still others settled in places along the way, helping immensely the western expansion of the continent. Only about 4,000 actually found gold in the Klondike between 1896 and 1899. In 1899, word reached the Klondike that gold had been found in Nome in the previous summer. Gold was much easier to find in Nome, as one could find nuggets scattered on the beach sand on the coast of the Bering Sea. After word of the ease with which finding gold along the Nome coast reached Seattle and San Francisco, steamships full of would-be miners arrived, including some from as far away as Australia. While there was no harbor for ships, boats could get in, so ships took their passengers as far as they could and anchored offshore. The gold seekers then shuttled to the shore by boat. It was not possible to work the whole year, so the season was short: running from June to October, with police making people leave for the winter if they did not have adequate shelter. At the peak of the Nome Gold Rush, an estimated 20,000 people living in the remote area. In the 1910 census, however, there were only 2,600 people still living there after miners left the region to get to other gold strikes in Alaska and the rest of the continent. Alaska was officially called the Department of Alaska until 1902, and then the District of Alaska until 1906. But it was also called Seward’s Folly just as often. Sitka had been the capital of the territory since 1884 and was replaced by Juneau in 1906. In 1912, the Alaska Native Brotherhood, an organization meant to address discrimination against Native people in the state, was founded. The United States Navy established the first seaplane base on Japonski Island in 1937. In 1941, Fort Ray began construction. It was meant to be an army garrison with the mission of protecting the Naval Air Station on Japonski. Alaska has about 5,000 earthquakes a year, and the strongest quake ever recorded in North America and second most powerful in the world, took place on Good Friday, March 27, 1964. Most often called the Good Friday Earthquake or the Portage Earthquake, it measured 9.2 on the Richter Scale. Centered beneath the mountains which surrounded Prince William Sound, it began at 5:36 local time and lasted four minutes and thirty-eight seconds with repercussions felt as far southeast as California and as far southwest as Hawaii. In Anchorage, the city was ruined by fissures up to 30 feet wide and slamming open and shut during the quake. Soil liquefaction and other ground failures followed, and finally tsunamis began hitting the coast. Many buildings in Anchorage dropped more than ten feet, and an elementary school was torn in half by a huge crevasse. The port city of Seward moved laterally 44 feet. The whole town of Chenega was wiped out, and a third of its residents were killed. The city of Houston reported that the ground there was briefly lifted four inches, and buildings in Seattle swayed. Across the state, 115 people died as a result of the quake. Twenty-five Good Friday’s later, on March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, spilling nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil. The oil spill which occurred as a result virtually destroyed Chenega again.

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