- Published: 27 December 2008
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Fritz Hower, age 9, of Overland Park, Kan., for his question:
HOW DID THE UNITED STATES GET ALASKA?
Alaska is the largest state in the United States. It became the 49th state in the Union on January 3, 1959.
In the early days, three native groups lived in the Alaska region: Eskimo, Aleuts and Indians. The first white settlement was established by the Russians on Kodiak Island in 1784. In 1799, Russia chartered the Russian American Company, a trading firm dealing in furs.
For the next 68 years, the Russian trading company was the only governing power in Alaska. The Russians treated the Indians harshly and made slaves of the Aleuts. And the Indians fought back by massacring many Russians at Sitka in 1802.
Headquarters was rebuilt in Sitka in 1804 by the Russians and prospered under Alexander Baranof as manager. But when Baranof was replaced in 1817, the company declined. In addition, by this time the fur bearing animals were becoming scarce because so many had been killed.
By 1850, the Russian American Company was no longer very much interested in the fur trade and the Russian government became eager to sell Alaska.
On March 30, 1867, United States Secretary of State William Seward signed the Treaty of Cession of Russian America to the United States. The territory was purchased by the United States for $7.2 million. This came out to about two cents per acre.
Many Americans opposed the purchase. They called Alaska such names as "Seward's Folly" and "Seward's Icebox.„ But Congress approved the purchase and the U.S. Flag was raised at Sitka on October 18, 1867.
It wasn't until 1912 that Congress passed a law that established Alaska as a United States territory and provided for a territorial legislature with limited powers.
Congress finally voted to admit Alaska into the Union on June 30, 1958. Then on January 3, 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower issued a proclamation declaring Alaska the 49th state.
Alaska proved to be rich in fish, minerals, timber and potential water power. The value of resources taken from the region has paid back the purchase price many hundreds of times. In addition, huge oil reserves at Prudhoe Bay along the Arctic coast promise to become one of Alaska's chief sources of wealth.
The name Alaska comes from a word used by the people of the Aleutian Islands. The word meant "great land of mainland." It sounded like A la a ska to early Russian settlers.
Alaska today is often called the Last Frontier because much of the state is not yet fully settled or developed.
The Alaska Highway is the only highway that connects Alaska with the road systems of the other states and Canada. The highway.was built as a military supply route during World War II at a cost of about $140 million. For a short time it was known as the Alcan Highway. The 1,221 miles of the road which cross Canada became the property of Canada in 1946.
About a fourth of the Alaska Highway is paved and the remaining three fourths has a gravel surface. The best time to travel on the highway is from June through September.