A Bit of Alaska History
Alaska’s natives are believed to have crossed the Bering Sea from Asia thousands of years ago.
The first Europeans to visit Alaska were the Russians who crossed the Bering Sea in search of new land and furs, especially sea otters. They found furs and many grew wealthy. Meanwhile, the natives suffered greatly from exposure to outsiders, partly from attacks though most Russians were peaceful, but mostly from diseases against which they had no immunity.
For this reason, entire villages were wiped out.
In 1784 the Russians first settled Kodiak Island. The Russians established many more permanent settlements and trading posts over the next decade.
Europeans in Alaska
Later, in the late 1700s, Spain also tried to establish Alaska and the Pacific Northwest as colonies. They explored much of the coastline, but the Spanish were a bit overextended at that period and were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, the British, including Captain James Cook, also explored the Alaska coastline.
On April 9, 1867 Russia sold Alaska to the United States for $7,200,000. Alaska was a poor investment for Russia (I bet they regretted it later when first gold and then oil were discovered), Russia was hurting for cash, and they sure didn’t want to sell it to the British. The purchase became known as Seward’s Folly, Seward being the Secretary of state who pushed for the purchase of Alaska. According to people in the U.S., Alaska was a worthless frozen wasteland.
In 1899 discovered gold near Nome, and Americans flooded northward into the territory. Seward’s naysayers had to eat their words. The city of Fairbanks began as a gold prospecting town. In the early 1900’s Alaska expanded its commercial interests to timber and fishing.
In 1959 Alaska finally became a state, after the discovery of oil made it clear that the area was economically viable and independent. In 1968 the north slope oil fields near Prudhoe bay were discovered and explored. Alaska is the only state that actually turns a profit from its natural resources and instead of taxing its citizens, pays them. In 1977, the Trans-Alaska pipeline was completed.
- The Alaska capital, Juneau, cannot be reached by road, only by air or by sea.
- The state sport is dog mushing.
- A thirteen year old boy, Benny Benson designed Alaska’s flag which shows the big dipper and the northern star.
- The tallest mountain in North America is Mt. McKinley in Alaska.
- In terms of land area Alaska is by far the largest state, about 1/5 as large as the rest of the states combined.
- Alaska is only 51 miles from Russia, closer than to the rest of the U.S.
- Barrow, Alaska is the northern most city in the U.S. and is completely dark for 2 months of the year.
- The long daylight hours make it possible to grow some of the largest vegetables in the world there.
- Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Alaska makes up the path of the 800 mile long trans-Alaska pipeline.
- A “sourdough” is someone who is sour on Alaska, but without the “dough” to get out.
- Alaska doesn’t have counties like other states, but instead boroughs of populated areas and areas that are unincorporated.
- Alaska’s motto is North to the Future, meaning that the future of America can be found in this northern state, with its still open territory and vast oil fields.
We place Alaska and Hawaii in a little box down in the corner of our United States maps. Even on world maps, which show Alaska in its proper place, the distortion at the far northern latitudes is great. If you possibly can, use a globe when teaching about Alaska to find its true position and size. To find details for mapping, though, you will also need a student atlas. First, print out this Alaska Map and use the atlas to label these points.
- Juneau (capitol)
- Prudhoe Bay
- Gulf of Alaska
- Pacific Ocean
- Bristol Bay
- Bering Sea
- Bering Strait
- Norton Sound
- Beaufort Sea
- Yukon River
- Kodiak Island
- Alexander Archipelago
- Aleutian Islands
- Saint Lawrence Island
- Alaska Peninsula
- Mt. McKinley
- Alaska Range
- Brooks Range
- Kuskokwim Mtns.
- Trans-Alaska Pipeline
- Dog sledding is big in Alaska. Pretend to go mushing. Build a sled from a chair placed backward and have traces forward to your stuffed animal collection. Learn these musher terms: basket = body of the sled, booties = slippers for dogs worn when conditions are too rough for their paws, Easy! = command for dogs to slow down, Gee = turn right, Haw = turn left, Hike! = go, Whoa = stop, rigging = lines and traces in dog harnesses.
- Make an Alaska flag from construction paper and yellow paints. Then go outside at night and find the Alaska constellations in the northern skies.
- Make a northern lights painting
- Try one of these Alaska Crafts.
- Read Call of the Wild by Jack London, a story of the Alaska gold rush and the sled dogs that made it possible.
- What are the northern lights? Where do they come from?
- The northern part of Alaska is permanently frozen. This is known as permafrost. Learn more about it. Read One Small Square: Arctic Tundra, by Donald Silver.
- Learn about an Alaska animal like otters, polar bears, timber wolves, bald eagles, salmon, or whales.
- Some of the interesting Alaska landforms include archipelagos, learn what an archipelago is and where else in the world they can be found.
- Alaska is part of the Ring of Fire and experiences earthquakes and volcanic activity regularly, especially in the Aleutian islands. Learn more about the Ring of Fire. Watch Ring of Fire from IMAX.
- Learn about the Alaska Natives. You could learn about igloos, canoes, hunting, and totem poles, plus much more.
- Look up some information about glaciers.