A Brief History
On January 3, 1959, the United States of America added the largest state ever admitted to the Union when Alaska became the 49th state. Purchased from Imperial Russia in 1867, Alaska is one of history’s greatest land bargains, at only about 2 cents per acre!
Alaska immediately comes to mind when you think of our Northernmost state, but in reality it is also the Easternmost and the Westernmost state as well! (Baffle your friends with this bit of trivia!) While Alaska was once the least populous state, the oil industry has changed things and Alaska now boasts a larger population (738,432 in 2016) than both Vermont and Wyoming. (Population in 1959 was only about 200,000.) At 1.26 people per square mile, Alaska is the least densely populated state, but has the second highest median annual household income at $75,112 (people in New Hampshire pull down about $500 more per year). Although only around 15% of Alaska’s population is of native ancestry, these Native Alaskans speak 20 different native languages. About a third of Alaskans are either atheist or agnostic, or have no stated religion, among the highest percentage of all states. Alaskans have the lowest individual tax burden of the citizens of any state.
Alaska is so big, twice the size of Texas, that if it were its own country it would rank #19 in the world. (663,268 square miles.) That is bigger than Texas, Montana and California combined. Despite its size, Alaska is largely a maritime oriented state, with most people living near the coast, and the state boasting over 300 islands (Aleutian Island chain) in its territory. Alaska’s sea coast is longer than all the rest of the United States coastline combined!
Although Alaska is often thought of as an Arctic wilderness, you may be surprised to know that the highest temperature recorded in Alaska was 100 F in 1915 (Ft. Yukon). Even more surprising, this makes Alaska tied with Hawaii for having the lowest maximum recorded temperature of all states. (More trivia to baffle your pals.) Of course, the lowest temperature recorded in Alaska, -80 F (Prospect Creek, 1971) is the lowest low temperature ever recorded in the United States. Initially Caucasian interest in Alaska concerned the fur harvest, and then the rich fishing grounds, with a major Gold Rush thrown in back in 1896-1899, but today over 80% of Alaska’s economy is from the petroleum industry oil and natural gas). Fisheries remain an important smaller portion of the Alaskan economy.
The most populous city in Alaska is Anchorage, with 291,826 people, while the state capital, Juneau, has only 31,275, making Juneau only the third largest city in the state (Fairbanks has just a few more people than Juneau). Despite its low population, and the fact that Juneau is the only state capital that cannot be reached by road (!), Juneau is not even close to the least populous state capital, Montpelier, Vermont, which has only 7,600 people. Juneau is, however, the largest US state capital by size, with a whopping 3255 square miles, making it the second largest city in the US and larger than Rhode Island or Delaware. In fact, the 4 largest US cities by area are all in Alaska (Sitka, Juneau, Wrangell, and Anchorage).
Alaska is the only state to have all three North American bears, the Polar Bear, Brown (Grizzly) Bear and the Black Bear. Other large mammals include the Moose (the State Mammal), Caribou, Elk, Sitka Deer, Musk Ox, Bison, Mountain Goat, Dall Sheep, Arctic Fox, Red Fox, Coyote, Gray Wolf, Cougar (mountain lion), Lynx, and a host of smaller mammals, including several species of Bats. Alaska is also home to numerous marine mammals, all sorts of seals and whales, including Orcas. Alaska is truly a paradise for hunters, fishermen and observers of wildlife.
Of course, the addition of Alaska as the 49th State created a need to change the 48 star flag that had flown since 1912 when New Mexico and Arizona joined the Union, and the official design was to have 7 rows of 7 stars each, in a staggered pattern. This is our rarest flag, because only a year later we added Hawaii and our flag became the familiar 50 star version we see today.
One final bit of Alaska trivia: The state insect is the Four Spot Skimmer (dragonfly).
Question for students (and subscribers): What are your favorite Alaska stories or trivia facts? Please share them with your fellow readers in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Bancroft, Hubert Howe. History of Alaska. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.
Naske, Claus M. and Herman E. Slotnick. Alaska: A History. University of Oklahoma Press, 2014.
Ritter, Harry. Alaska’s History: The People, Land, and Events of the North Country (Alaska Pocket Guide). Alaska Northwest Books, 1993.