Alaska, the last frontier, was the 49th state to join the Union in 1959. In its early years, about 15,000 years ago, Alaska was settled by people who followed herd animals across the Bering Land Bridge, which was covered during the most recent ice age.
The Tsar of Russia sent men to see if the land was linked somehow to Russia’s mainland in 1728, but they got into heavy fog and didn’t find North America. The second trip had a better turnout for the explorers. After spotting the peak of Mount St. Elias, the men went ashore and soon began trading for sea otter furs.
By the 1800s, sea otters had been hunted for their furs almost until there weren’t any more, which partially led to the Russians’ willingness to sell Alaska to the United States. US Secretary of State William H. Seward bought the land for $7.2 million. On October 18, 1867, the Alaska Purchase was completed, and the first American flag there was raised and flown.
Many thought the deal was foolish, believing that the land had nothing to offer, and so they referred to the deal as “Seward’s Folly.” However, in the 1890s, miners found gold and, as news spread, people came to the area. Today, the largest salmon industry in the world is based in Alaska.
Land of the Midnight Sun
Alaska is also called the Land of the Midnight Sun. The state gets more sunlight in spring and summer than any other state and many other parts of the world. In the northernmost areas, such as Barrow, the sun does not set for more than two and a half months (May to August), and from November to January, the sun never rises above the horizon.
Fairbanks, which sits below the Arctic Circle by almost 200 miles, still gets 24 hours of light for a long time during the summer months. And Ketchikan, which is located at the southernmost area, still gets 17 hours of daylight in June.
- In 1790, a Japanese whaling ship ran aground near the Aleutian Islands. Rats escaped from the ship and landed there, giving it the name of “Rat Island.”
- The capitol of Alaska is Juneau.
- Alaska is the largest state in the Union.
- The state’s motto is “North to the Future.”
- There are approximately 5,000 earthquakes here per year.