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State of Alaska

ORIGIN OF STATE NAME: From the Aleut word "alyeska," meaning "great land."

NICKNAME: Land of the Midnight Sun; The Last Frontier.

CAPITAL: Juneau.

ENTERED UNION: 3 January 1959 (49th).

SONG: "Alaska's Flag."

MOTTO: North to the Future.

FLAG: On a blue field, eight gold stars form the Big Dipper and the North Star.

OFFICIAL SEAL: In the inner circle symbols of mining, agriculture, and commerce are depicted against a background of mountains and the northern lights. In the outer circle are a fur seal, a salmon, and the words "The Seal of the State of Alaska."

BIRD: Willow ptarmigan.

FISH: King salmon.

FLOWER: Wild forget-me-not.

TREE: Sitka spruce.

GEM: Jade.

LEGAL HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 3rd Monday in January; Presidents' Day, 3rd Monday in February; Seward's Day, last Monday in March; Memorial Day, last Monday in May; Independence Day, 4 July; Labor Day, 1st Monday in September; Alaska Day, 18 October; Veterans' Day, 11 November; Thanksgiving Day, 4th Thursday in November; Christmas Day, 25 December.

TIME: 3 AM Alaska Standard Time, 2 AM Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time = noon GMT.


Situated at the northwest corner of the North American continent, Alaska is separated by Canadian territory from the coterminous 48 states. Alaska is the largest of the 50 states, with a total area of 591,004 sq mi (1,530,699 sq km). Land takes up 570,833 sq mi (1,478,456 sq km) and inland water, 20,171 sq mi (52,243 sq km). Alaska is more than twice the size of Texas, the next largest state, and occupies 16% of the total US land area; the e-w extension is 2,261 mi (3,639 km); the maximum n-s extension is 1,420 mi (2,285 km).

Alaska is bounded on the n by the Arctic Ocean and Beaufort Sea; on the e by Canada's Yukon Territory and province of British Columbia; on the s by the Gulf of Alaska, Pacific Ocean, and Bering Sea; and on the w by the Bering Sea, Bering Strait, Chukchi Sea, and Arctic Ocean.

Alaska's many offshore islands include St. Lawrence, St. Matthew, Nunivak, and the Pribilof group in the Bering Sea; Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska; the Aleutian Islands in the Pacific; and some 1,100 islands constituting the Alexander Archipelago, extending se along the Alaska panhandle.

The total boundary length of Alaska is 8,187 mi (13,176 km), including a general coastline of 6,640 mi (10,686 km); the tidal shoreline extends 33,904 mi (54,563 km). Alaska's geographic center is about 60 mi (97 km) nw of Mt. McKinley. The northern-most point in the United StatesPoint Barrow, at 71°2330n, 156°2830wlies within the state of Alaska, as does the western-most pointCape Wrangell on Attu Island in the Aleutians, at 52°5530n, 172°28e. Little Diomede Island, belonging to Alaska, is less than 2 mi (3 km) from Big Diomede Island, belonging to Russia.


Topography varies sharply among the six distinct regions of Alaska. In the southeast is a narrow coastal panhandle cut off from the main Alaskan landmass by the St. Elias Range. This region, featuring numerous mountain peaks of 10,000 ft (3,000 m) in elevation, is paralleled by the Alexander Archipelago. South-central Alaska, which covers a 700-mi (1,100-km) area along the Gulf of Alaska, includes the Kenai Peninsula and Cook Inlet, a great arm of the Pacific penetrating some 200 mi (320 km) to Anchorage. The southwestern region includes the Alaska Peninsula, filled with lightly wooded, rugged peaks; and the 1,700-mi (2,700-km) sweep of the Aleutian islands, barren masses of volcanic origin. Western Alaska extends from Bristol Bay to the Seward Peninsula, an immense tundra dotted with lakes and containing the deltas of the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, the longest in the state at 1,900 mi (3,058 km) and 680 mi (1,094 km), respectively. The Yukon River also ranks third among the nation's longest rivers; its source is McNeil River in Canada. Interior Alaska extends north of the Alaska Range and south of the Brooks Range, including most of the drainage of the Yukon and its major tributaries, the Tanana and Porcupine rivers. The Arctic region extends from Kotzebue, north of the Seward Peninsula, east to Canada. From the northern slopes of the Brooks Range, the elevation falls to the Arctic Ocean. The mean elevation of the state is approximately 1,900 ft (580 m).

The 11 highest mountains in the United Statesincluding the highest in North America, Mt. McKinley (20,320 ft/6,198 m), located in the Alaska Rangeare in the state, which also contains half the world's glaciers; the largest, Malaspina, covers more area than the entire state of Rhode Island. Ice fields cover 4% of the state. Alaska has more than three million lakes larger than 20 acres (8 hectares), and more than one-fourth of all the inland water wholly within the United States lies inside the state's borders. The largest lake is Iliamna, occupying about 1,000 sq mi (2,600 sq km). The lowest point of the state is at sea level at the Pacific Ocean.

The most powerful earthquake in recorded US history, measuring 8.5 on the Richter scale, struck the Anchorage region on 27 March 1964, resulting in 114 deaths and $500 million in property damage in Alaska and along the US West Coast.


Americans, who called Alaska "Seward's icebox" when it was first purchased from the Russians, were unaware of the variety of climatic conditions within its six topographic regions. Although minimum daily winter temperatures in the Arctic region and in the Brooks Range average 20°f (29°c) and the ground at Point Barrow is frozen permanently to 1,330 ft (405 m), summer maximum daily temperatures in the Alaskan lowlands average above 60°f (16°c) and have been known to exceed 90°f (32°c). The southeastern region is moderate, ranging from a daily average of 30°f (1°c) in January to 56°f (13°c) in July; the south-central zone has a similar summer range, but winters are somewhat harsher, especially in the interior. The Aleutian Islands have chilly, damp winters and rainy, foggy weather for most of the year; western Alaska is also rainy and cool. The all-time high for the state was 100°f (38°c), recorded at Ft. Yukon on 27 June 1915; the reading of 79.8°f (62°c), registered at Prospect Creek Camp in the northwestern part of the state on 23 January 1971, is the lowest temperature ever officially recorded in the United States.

The annual normal daily mean temperature in Juneau is 41.5°f (5.3°c). Juneau receives an annual average precipitation of 55.2 in (140 cm), with an average of 99 in (251 cm) of snowfall recorded at the airport there each year. The entire southeastern region of Alaska has a wide range of microclimates with varying levels of precipitation; Juneau's metropolitan area precipitation ranges from 40 in (102 cm) to over 100 in (254 cm) per year. Parts of Alaska are prone to wildfires, which burned about 4.4 million acres statewide in 2005.


Life zones in Alaska range from grasslands, mountains, and tundra to thick forests, in which Sitka spruce (the state tree), western hemlock, tamarack, white birch, and western red cedar predominate. Various hardy plants and wild flowers spring up during the short growing season on the semiarid tundra plains. Some species of poppy and gentian are endangered.

Mammals abound amid the wilderness. Great herds of caribou migrate across some northern areas of the state. Moose move within ranges they establish, but do not migrate seasonally or move in herds as do caribou. Reindeer were introduced to Alaska as herd animals for Alaska Natives, and there are no free-ranging herds in the state. Kodiak, polar, black, and grizzly bears, Dall sheep, and an abundance of small mammals are also found. The sea otter and musk ox have been successfully reintroduced. Round Island, along the north shore of Bristol Bay, has the world's largest walrus rookery. North America's largest population of bald eagles nest in Alaska, and whales migrate annually to the icy bays. Pristine lakes and streams are famous for trout and salmon fishing. In all, 386 species of birds, 430 fishes, 105 mammals, 7 amphibians, and 3 reptiles have been found in the state.

Izembek Lagoon, at the tip of the Alaskan Peninsula, contains what is considered to be the most extensive eelgrass meadow in the world. The area is a staging and nesting ground for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds and ducks. At least 39 species of fish visit the site as a spawning ground.

In April 2006, a total of 12 species occurring within the state were on the threatened and endangered species list of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These included 11 endangered animals, such as the Eskimo curlew, short-tailed albatross, leatherback sea turtle, Steller sea-lion, and bowhead, finback, and humpback whales. Three species listed as threatened included the spectacled eider, Steller's aider, and Steller sea-lion. Numerous species considered endangered in the coterminous US remain common in Alaska, however.


In 1997, Alaska's number one environmental health problem was the unsafe water and sanitation facilities in over 135 of Alaska's communitiesmostly Alaska Native villages. The people of these communities must carry their water from streams or watering points to their homes; people must use "honey buckets" or privies for disposal of human waste; and solid waste lagoons are usually a collection of human waste, trash, and junk, infested with flies and other carriers of disease. The government of Alaska, under then-governor Tony Knowles, established a goal of "putting the honey bucket in museums" as of 2005. To accomplish this goal, in 1993 Knowles established the "Rural Sanitation Task Force" to guide the effort and has committed approximately $40 million per year in state and federal funds to finance new water, sewer, and solid waste facilities. In 2005, federal EPA grants awarded to the state included over $49 million for the development and construction of water and wastewater systems.

A tremendous backlog of contaminated sites from World War II (193945) military installations exists, and some of these sites many years later were discovered to be the source of contamination of groundwater, drinking water, and fisheries habitat. The US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) database listed 86 hazardous waste sites in Alaska in 2003. As of 2006, six of these sites were on the National Priorities List, five of which were military installations. The Standard Steel & Metal Salvage Yard of the US Department of Transportation had been deleted from the list that year. Sites have been identified and prioritized, and an aggressive state/federal cleanup effort is underway. Two former pulp mill sites in southeast Alaska are also the subject of major cleanup efforts. In 2005, the EPA spent $179,975 through the Superfund program for the cleanup of hazardous waste sites in the state.

Alaskan wetlands, which cover about 170 million acres, serve as resting and nesting grounds for over 13 million ducks and geese and 100 million shorebirds. Freshwater wetlands, primarily peat-lands or marshes, bogs, fens, tundra, and meadows, cover about 110 million acres. Protection of coastal wetlands is shared by local, state, and rural regional governments. Izembek Lagoon National Wildlife Refuge, located at the westernmost tip of the Alaskan Peninsula, was designated as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in 1986.

The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill highlighted the need for better prevention and response abilities. Since then these capabilities have been increased through stronger laws and more clearly defined roles among all the various governments and communities and greatly enhanced state regulatory agency capabilities. State-of-the-art tugs now escort tankers in Prince William Sound; these tankers are constantly monitored to ensure that they stay on course, and their crews have been increased to ensure redundancy of critical positions.

Oil development on the North Slope and in Cook Inlet, mining throughout the state, and timber harvesting largely in the southern regions remain areas of focus for environmental protection, as do winter violations of air quality standards for carbon monoxide in Anchorage and Fairbanks. In 2003, 539.6 million lb of toxic chemicals were released by the state, the highest amount of any state in the nation.


Alaska, with a land area one-fifth the size of the conterminous United States, ranked 47th in population in 2005 with an estimated total of 663,661, an increase of 5.9% since 2000. Between 1990 and 2000, Alaska's population grew from 550,043 to 626,932, or 14%. The state is projected to have a population of 732,544 by 2015 and 820,881 by 2025. Regions of settlement and development constitute less than 1% of Alaska's total land area. The population density was 1.2 persons per sq mi in 2004, making Alaska the nation's most sparsely settled state.

Historically, population shifts in Alaska have directly reflected economic and political changes. The Alaska gold rush of the 1890s resulted in a population boom from 32,052 in 1890 to 63,592 a decade later; by the 1920s, however, mining had declined and Alaska's population had decreased to 55,036. The region's importance to US national defense during the 1940s led to a rise in population from 72,524 to 128,643 during that decade. Oil development, especially the construction of the Alaska pipeline, brought a 78% population increase between 1960 and 1980. Almost all of this gain was from migration.

The state's population is much younger than that of the nation as a whole. The median age was 33.4 in 2004, compared with the national average of 36.2, and only 6.4% of all Alaskans were 65 years of age or older, while 28.7% were under 18 years old (compared with the national average of 25%). Alaska is one of the few states where men outnumber women; as of 2004, women accounted for 48.3% of Alaskan residents.

About half of Alaska's residents live in and around Anchorage, whose population was estimated at 272,687 in 2004. The 2004 estimated population of Fairbanks was 85,930. Less than one-quarter of the population lives in Western Alaska.


In 2000 Native Americans accounted for 15.6% of Alaska's populationthe highest percentage of any state. In 2004, that figure was 15.8% of Alaska's population. American Indians, primarily Athabaskan (14,520) and Tlingit-Haida (14,825) living in southeastern Alaska (Alaska Panhandle), numbered around 29,345 in 2000. There are also small numbers of Tsimshian living in this area. Eskimos (45,919) and Aleuts (11,941), the other native peoples, live mostly in scattered villages to the north and northwest. Taken together, Alaska Natives were estimated in 2000 to number about 98,043, up from 86,000 (16%) in 1996. The Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 gave 13 native corporations nearly $1 billion in compensation for exploration, mining, and drilling rights, and awarded them royalties on oil and the rights to nearly 12% of Alaska's land area.

In 2000, the black population was 21,787, or 3.5% of the total population, down slightly from 22,000 in 1990. In 2004, the black population was 3.6% of the total population. Among those of Asian origin in 2000 were 12,712 Filipinos, 1,414 Japanese, and 4,573 Koreans; in the same year, the total Asian population was 25,116 and Pacific Islanders numbered 3,309. In 2004, the Asian population was 4.5% of the total population. In 2000, of Alaska's total population, about 25,852 individuals was of Hispanic or Latino origin, with 13,334 of those claiming Mexican ancestry (up from 6,888 in 1990). In 2004, 4.9% of the population claimed Hispanic or Latino origin, and 4.7% of the population claimed origin of two or more races. Foreign-born persons numbered 37,170, or 5.9% of the population (up from 4.4% in 1990).


From the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian groups of lower Alaska almost no language influence has been felt, save for hooch (from Tlingit hoochino ); but some native words have escaped into general usage, notably Eskimo mukluk and Aleut parka. Native place-names abound: Skagway and Ketchikan (Tlingit), Kodiak and Katmai (Eskimo), and Alaska and Akutan (Aleut).

In 2000, 85.7% of the population five years old and older was reported to speak only English in the home, a decrease over 87.9% recorded in 1990.

The following table gives selected statistics from the 2000 Census for language spoken at home by persons five years old and over. The category "Other Native North American languages" includes Apache, Cherokee, Choctaw, Dakota, Keres, Pima, and Yupik. The category "Other Pacific Island languages" includes Chamorro, Hawaiian, Ilocano, Indonesian, and Samoan.

Population 5 years and over 579,740 100.0
  Speak only English 496,982 85.7
  Speak a language other than English 82,758 14.3
Speak a language other than English 82,758 14.3
  Other Native North American languages 30,121 5.2
  Spanish or Spanish Creole 16,674 2.9
  Tagalog 8,934 1.5
  Korean 4,369 0.8
  German 3,574 0.6
  Russian 2,952 0.5
  Other Pacific Island languages 2,591 0.4
  French (incl. Patois, Cajun) 2,197 0.4
  Japanese 1,392 0.2
  Chinese 1,295 0.2


The largest religious organization in the state is the Roman Catholic Church, which had 52,892 members and 78 parishes in 2004; the Anchorage archdiocese reported about 29,693 members. In 2006, the Latter-day Saints (Mormons), reported a statewide membership of 27,600 members, with 73 congregations; a small local temple was built in Anchorage in 1999. As of 2000, the Southern Baptists have been one of the largest Protestant denominations, with 22,959 adherents and 68 congregations; there were 526 new members in the Southern Baptist Convention in 2002.

Many Aleuts were converted to the Russian Orthodox religion during the 18th century, and small Russian Orthodox congregations are still active on the Aleutian Islands, in Kodiak and southeastern Alaska, and along the Yukon River. The Orthodox Church in AmericaTerritorial Dioceses had 20,000 adherents and 46 congregations in 2000.

The next largest denominations (with 2000 data) include the Assembly of God, 11,638; Independent, Non-Charismatic Churches, 7,600; and Episcopalians, 6,693. There were about 3,525 Jews and 1,381 Muslims. About 65.7% of the population did not specify a religious affiliation.


The first rail transportation networks in Alaska were constructed to serve mining interests. The 110-mi (177-km) White Pass and Yukon Railway (WP&YRR), originally constructed during the Klondike gold rush and completed in 1900, constituted the key link between tidewater at Skagway, the Yukon River, and the gold fields. Today, this line runs as a summer-only tourist attraction and provides service between Skagway and Fraser, British Columbia. Shortly after the turn of the century, the Guggenheims financed the construction of the Copper River & Northwestern Railway, which connected Cordova and McCarthy to service the Kennicott Copper Mining Company.

Regular passenger and freight railroad service began in 1923, when the Alaska Railroad began operation. The Alaska Railroad links communities between Whittier, Seward, Anchorage, and Fairbanks. As of 2003, this railroad of 466 route mi (750 km) was not connected to any other North American line (although rail-barge service provides access to the rest of the US rail network). The Alaska Railroad was federally operated until 1985, when it was bought by the state government for $22.3 million. The railroad carries volumes of coal from Healy north to Fairbanks (600,000 tons/year) and south to Seward for export (800,000 tons/year). The rail-road also carries large volumes of gravel to Anchorage (more than two million tons from Palmer in the mid-1990s) and petroleum products (more than one million tons from Mapco's North Pole refinery) to Anchorage and various military bases in the area. The railroad is increasing summer passenger travel, often by hauling dome/dining rail cars owned by tour companies.

The Alaska Highway, which extends 1,523 mi (2,451 km) from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Fairbanks, is the only total road link with the rest of the United States. In-state roads are few and far between: although Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Seward are linked, Juneau, the state capital, has no road link. In total, there were 14,107 mi (22,712 km) of roads in use in 2004, including more than 1,800 mi (2,896 km) of roads in national parks and forests. During that same year, the state had around 669,000 registered vehicles and 482,532 licensed drivers. The largest public transit system, that of Anchorage, accommodated over three million unlinked passenger trips annually in the mid-1990s.

The Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) provides year-round scheduled ferry service to over 30 communities throughout southeast and southwest Alaska. Service extends from Bellingham, Washington, and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. This ferry system extends over 3,500 route mi (5,632 km) and connects communities with each other, with regional centers, and with the continental road system.

Water transport in Alaska is dominated by Valdez, which annually ships about 100 million tons of crude petroleum from the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Terminal. In 2004, total cargo volume for the Port of Valdez totaled 46.758 million tons, making it the 18th-busiest port in the United States. Kenai/Nikishka is the state's second-largest freight-handling port and also has petroleum as its principal commodity. Anchorage is the state's largest general cargo port, with over three million tons per year. In 2004, Alaska had 5,497 mi (8,850 km) of navigable inland waterways. Waterborne shipments for the state in 2003 totaled 65.353 million tons.

Air travel is the primary means of intrastate transportation, with regional carriers serving remote communities. In 2005, Alaska had a total of 678 public- and private-use aviation-related facilities. This included 517 airports, 37 heliports, and 124 seaplane bases. The state has three major international airports, at Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau, the state's capital. Anchorage International Airport (AIA) is a major refueling stop for international freight airplanes and is a freight hub for Federal Express and United Parcel Service. In 2004, Anchorage International had 2,439,969 passenger enplanements. Fairbanks International in that same year had 420,394 enplanements, while Juneau International had 377,505.


At some time between 10,000 and 40,000 years ago, the ancestors of all of America's aboriginal peoples trekked over a land bridge that connected northeastern Siberia with northwestern America. These early hunter-gatherers dispersed, eventually becoming three distinct groups: Aleut, Eskimo, and Indian.

Ages passed before overseas voyagers rediscovered Alaska. Separate Russian parties led by Aleksei Chirikov and Vitas Bering (who had sailed in 1728 through the strait that now bears his name) landed in Alaska in 1741. Within a few years, the discoverers were followed by the exploiters, who hunted the region's fur-bearing animals. In 1784, the first permanent Russian settlement was established on Kodiak Island: 15 years later, the Russian American Company was granted a monopoly over the region. Its manager, Aleksandr Baranov, established Sitka as the company's headquarters. In 1802, the Tlingit Indians captured Sitka, but two years later lost the town and the war with the Russian colonizers. Fluctuations in the fur trade, depletion of the sea otter, and the Russians' inability to make their settlements self-sustaining limited their development of the region. Increasingly, the czarist government viewed the colonies as a drain on the treasury. In 1867, as a result of the persistence of Secretary of State William H. Seward, a devoted American expansionist, Russia agreed to sell its American territories to the United States for $7,200,000. From 1867 until the first Organic Act of 1884, which provided for a federally appointed governor, Alaska was administered first by the US Army, then by the US Customs Service.

The pace of economic development quickened after the discovery of gold in 1880 at Juneau. Prospectors began moving into the eastern interior after this success, leading to gold strikes on Forty Mile River in 1886 and at Circle in 1893. But it was the major strike in Canada's Klondike region in 1896 that sparked a mass stampede to the Yukon Valley and other regions of Alaska, including the Arctic. The gold rush led to the establishment of permanent towns in the interior for the first time.

Subsequent development of the fishing and timber industries increased Alaska's prosperity and prospects, although the region suffered from a lack of transportation facilities. A significant achievement came in 1914, when construction started on the Alaska Railroad connecting Seward, a new town with an ice-free port, with Anchorage and Fairbanks. Politically there were advances as well. In 1906, Alaskans were allowed to elect a nonvoting delegate to Congress for the first time. Congress granted territorial status to the region in 1912, and the first statehood bill was introduced in Congress four years later.

Mineral production declined sharply after 1914. Population declined too, and conditions remained depressed through the 1920s, although gold mining was helped by a rise in gold prices in 1934. World War II (193945) provided the next great economic impetus for Alaska; the Aleutian campaign that followed the Japanese invasion of the islands, though not as pivotal as the combat in other areas of the Pacific, did show American policymakers that Alaska's geography was in itself an important resource. Thus the spurt of federal construction and movement of military personnel continued even after the war ended, this time directed at the Soviet Uniononly 40 mi (64 km) across the Bering Straitrather than Japan.

The US government built the Alaska Highway and many other facilities, including docks, airfields, and an extension of the Alaska Railroad. Population soared as thousands of civilian workers and military personnel moved to the territory. The newcomers added impetus to a new movement for statehood, and the Alaska Statehood Act was adopted by Congress in June 1958 and ratified by Alaska voters that August. On 3 January 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the proclamation that made Alaska the 49th state.

In 1971, the Native Claims Settlement Act provided an extensive grant to the state's natives but also precipitated a long federal-state controversy over land allocations. A major oil field was discovered in 1968, and in 1974, over the opposition of many environmentalists, construction began on the 789-mi (1,270-km) Trans-Alaska Pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. The oil that began flowing through the pipeline in 1977 made Alaska almost immediately one of the nation's leading energy producers.

Alaska's extraordinary oil wealth enabled it to embark on a heavy program of state services and to abolish the state income tax. However, state spending failed to stimulate the private sector to the degree expected. Further, the state's dependence on oil82% of its revenue came from oil industry taxes and royaltiesbecame a disadvantage when overproduction in the Middle East drove the price of oil down from $36 a barrel at the peak of Alaska's oil boom in 198081 to $13.50 a barrel in 1988. In 1986, the state's revenues had declined by two-thirds. Alaska lost 20,000 jobs between 1985 and 1989. The economy's collapse forced 10,000 properties into foreclosure in those years. At the same time, the state rapidly depleted its oil reserves. In 1981, the Interior Department estimated that 83 billion barrels of undiscovered oil existed. By 1989, that estimate had dropped to 49 billion barrels.

On 24 March 1989, the Exxon Valdez, a 987-ft (300-m) oil tanker, hit a reef and ran aground. The tanker spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil. The oil eventually contaminated 1,285 mi (2,068 km) of shoreline, fouling Prince William Sound and its wildlife sanctuary, the Gulf of Alaska, and the Alaska Peninsula. In the settlement of the largest environmental suit in US history brought by the state and federal governments, Exxon was fined $1.025 billion in civil and criminal penalties. By 1992, Exxon had spent some $2 billion cleaning up Prince William Sound and paid another $300 million in compensation for losses. Ten years after the spill, a $100-million response system was in place to prevent future disasters and every tanker that departed the Valdez terminal in Prince William Sound was escorted by tugboats.

In the early 1990s, oil production in Prudhoe Bay was declining, a development that forced Governor Tony Knowles to implement cutbacks in state spending and brought a renewal of proposals to open areas of the nearly 20-million acre (8.1 million hectare) Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to commercial development. A congressional bill introduced in October 1999 by Alaskan senator Frank Murkowski and backed by the state's other members of Congress, would allow oil and gas, tourism, and residential development in the refuge, which is often called "America's Serengeti" for its wealth and diversity of wildlife. As the Republican-dominated Congress considered the bill in 2000 and after, conservationists rallied against it. In November 2002, Murkowski was elected governor of Alaska and continued his support for oil drilling in ANWR. The US Senate has continually voted to reject drilling in ANWR, but the US House of Representatives has voted in favor. In August 2005, President George W. Bush signed the first national energy legislation in more than a decade, and signaled the law would help wean the United States off foreign sources of oil by encouraging the domestic production of oil and natural gas and the use of cleaner-burning, domestic energy sources such as nuclear power, ethanol, and liquefied natural gas. The legislation dropped an amendment regarding the long-standing contentious issue of drilling in ANWR, which had blocked passage of earlier versions. As early as October 2005, however, the Senate Energy Committee voted to open ANWR to oil drilling as part of a broad budget bill to fund the federal government; the issue is far from being resolved.


Under Alaska's first and only constitutionadopted in 1956, effective since the time of statehood and amended 29 times by January 2005the House of Representatives consists of 40 members elected for two-year terms; the Senate has 20 members elected for staggered four-year terms. The minimum age is 21 for a representative, 25 for a senator; legislators must have resided in the state for at least three years before election and in the district at least one year. Annual legislative sessions begin in January and are limited to 121 calendar days. Special sessions, limited to 30 calendar days, may be called by a two-thirds vote of the members. As of 2004, legislators' salaries were $24,012. Legislators receive reimbursement for living expenses at the rate of $204 per day.

Alaska's executive branch, modeled after New Jersey's, features a strong governor who appoints most cabinet members and judges subject to legislative confirmation. The lieutenant governor (elect-ed jointly with the governor) is the only other elected executive. The governor must be at least 30 years old, and must have been a US citizen for seven years and an Alaska resident for seven years. The term of office is four years, and the governor is limited to two consecutive terms. The qualifications for the lieutenant governor are the same as for the governor. As of December 2004, the governor's salary was $85,766.

After a bill has been passed by the legislature, it becomes law if signed by the governor; if left unsigned for 15 days (Sundays excluded) while the legislature is in session, or for 20 days after it has adjourned; or if passed by a two-thirds vote of the elected members of the combined houses over a gubernatorial veto (to override a veto of an appropriations bill requires a three-fourths vote). Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds vote of the legislature and ratification by the electorate. Voters must be 18 years old (within 90 days of registration), US citizens, and not registered to vote in another state. Restrictions apply to convicted felons and those declared mentally incompetent by the court.

Between 1993 and 1995, the Constitutional Revision Task Force studied alternatives to existing methods of revising the state constitution, recommending the appointment of a permanent advisory commission to submit proposals to the state legislature. In 2002 voters rejected a proposal that called for a constitutional convention.


When Congress debated the statehood question in the 1950s, it was assumed that Alaska would be solidly Democratic, but this expectation has not been borne out; as of 2004 there were 472,000 registered voters, of which only nearly 16% were Democratic, while 25% were Republican and 59% were unaffiliated or members of other parties.

In 1990, a member of the Alaskan Independent party, Walter J. Hickel, was elected governor. Democrat Tony Knowles won the governorship in the November 1994 election and was reelected in 1998. Two Republicans, Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens, were reelected to the US Senate in 1998 and 2002, respectively. Murkowski was elected Alaska's governor in 2002; he appointed his daughter Lisa to the US Senate to fill his vacancy when he as-sumed the office of governor; Lisa Murkowski then won election in the 2004 Senate race, with 48.6% of the vote to Democrat Tony Knowles 45.6%.

Alaska Presidential Vote by Major Political Parties, 19602004
*Won US presidential election.
**IND. candidate Ross Perot received 73,481 votes.
***IND. candidate Ross Perot received 26,333 votes.
1960 3 Nixon (R) 29,809 30,953
1964 3 *Johnson (D) 44,329 22,930
1968 3 *Nixon (R) 35,411 37,600
1972 3 *Nixon (R) 32,967 55,349
1976 3 Ford(R) 44,058 71,555
1980 3 *Reagan (R) 41,842 86,112
1984 3 *Reagan (R) 62,007 138,377
1988 3 *Bush (R) 72,584 119,251
1992** 3 Bush (R) 78,294 102,000
1996*** 3 Dole (R) 80,380 122,746
2000 3 *Bush, G. W. (R) 79,004 167,398
2004 3 *Bush, G. W. (R) 111,025 190,889

In 2004, Alaska's incumbent US Representative, Republican Don Young, was reelected with 71% of the vote. In presidential elections since 1968, Alaskans have voted Republican 10 consecutive times. Alaskans reelected incumbent Republican George W. Bush with 61.8% of the vote in 2004 (an increase from 59% in 2000) to Democrat John Kerry's 35.0%. The state had three electoral votes in the 2004 presidential election. Alaska's state legislature in 2005 consisted of 8 Democrats and 11 Republicans in the Senate, and 14 Democrats and 26 Republicans in the House. Twelve women held statewide elected office in 2003.


Alaska has 12 borough governments, which function much in the same way that county governments do in other states. Each borough has its own administrative assembly. There are also four consolidated city-borough governments: Anchorage, Juneau, Sitka, and Yakutat. Alaska is divided into 149 municipalities, ranging from the geographically small Bristol Bay (519 sq mi or 1,344 sq km) to the expansive North Slope (87,860 sq mi or 227,557 sq mi). Most municipalities were governed by elected mayors and councils, and there are more than 100 village councils. There are 53 public school districts in Alaska. The state has 14 special districts. For census purposes, Alaska is divided into 27 county equivalents.

In 1971 land claims were settled, returning 44 million acres of federal land to Alaska's native population. Through the US Bureau of Indian Affairs, native communities receive varying levels of assistance including help in setting up villages in accordance with governing laws. In 2002, there were 12 Alaska Native Regional Corporations.

In 2005, local government accounted for about 27,167 full-time (or equivalent) employment positions.


To address the continuing threat of terrorism and to work with the federal Department of Homeland Security, homeland security in Alaska operates under the authority of the governor and state statute; the adjutant general was designated as the state homeland security adviser.

By law, Alaska's government may contain no more than 20 administrative departments. As of 2006 departments in Alaska were: Administration; Commerce, Community, and Economic Development; Corrections; Education and Early Development; Environmental Conservation; Fish and Game; Health and Social Services; Labor and Workforce Development; Law; Military and Veterans Affairs; Natural Resources; Public Safety; Revenue; and Transportation and Public Facilities. In addition, the state has an ombudsman with limited powers to investigate citizen complaints against state agencies.


The Alaska Supreme Court, consists of a chief justice and four associate justices, and hears appeals for civil matters from the 15 superior courts, whose 40 judges are organized among the four state judicial districts, and for criminal matters from the three-member court of appeals. The superior court has original jurisdiction in all civil and criminal matters, and it hears appeals from the district court. The lowest court is the district court, of which there are 56 in four districts. All judges are appointed by the governor from nominations made by the Judicial Council, but are thereafter subject to voter approval. Supreme court justices serve terms of ten years, while court of appeals and superior court judges serve terms of eight years. District judges serve terms of four years.

As of 31 December 2004, a total of 4,554 prisoners were held in Alaska's state and federal prisons, an increase from 4,527 of 0.6% from the previous year. As of year-end 2004, a total of 397 inmates were female, up from 392 or 1.3% from the year before. Among sentenced prisoners (one year or more), Alaska had an incarceration rate of 398 per 100,000 population in 2004.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2004 Alaska had a violent crime rate (murder/nonnegligent manslaughter; forcible rape; robbery; aggravated assault) of 634.5 reported incidents per 100,000 population, or a total of 4,159 reported incidents. Crimes against property (burglary; larceny/theft; and motor vehicle theft) in that same year totaled 22,172 reported incidents or 3,382.8 reported incidents per 100,000 people. Alaska does not have a death penalty.

In 2003, Alaska spent $207,159,311 on homeland security, an average of $296 per state resident.


A huge buildup of military personnel occurred after World War II (193945), as the Cold War with the Soviet Union led the United States to establish the Distant Early Warning (DEW) System, Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, and Joint Surveillance System in the area. Later years saw a cutback in personnel, however, from a high of 40,214 in 1962 to 15,906 in 2002, 9,136 of them in the Air Force. Anchorage is the home of both the largest Army base, Fort Richardson (Anchorage), and the largest Air Force base, Elmendorf (Anchorage). These bases had the most active-duty military personnel and civilian personnel in the state, 7,140 and 1,133, respectively. In the Aleutians are several Navy facilities and the Shemya Air Force Base. In 2004, there were 21,002 active duty military personnel, 1,513 in the National Guard, and 3,527 civilian personnel. Alaska firms received defense contracts worth $1.2 billion in 2004. In that same year, the Defense Department payroll was about $1.2 billion, including retired military pay.

There were 67,299 veterans of US military service in Alaska as of 2003, of whom 3,475 served in World War II; 3,612 in the Korean conflict; 23,948 during the Vietnam era; and 15,678 during 19902000 (in the Gulf War). Expenditures on veterans amounted to $230 million in 2004.

The Alaska State Troopers provide police protection throughout the state, except in the larger cities, where municipal police forces have jurisdiction. As of 31 October 2004, the Alaska State Troopers employed 353 full-time sworn officers.


The earliest immigrants to North America, more than 10,000 years ago, likely came to Alaska via a land bridge across what is now the Bering Strait. The Russian fur traders who arrived during the 1700s found Aleuts, Eskimos, and American Indians already established there. Despite more than a century of Russian sovereignty over the area, however, few Russians came, and those that did returned to the mother country with the purchase of Alaska by the United States in 1867. Virtually all other migration to Alaska has been from the continental USfirst during the gold rush of the late 19th century and most recently during the oil boom of the 1970s. Between 1970 and 1983, Alaska's net gain from migration was 78,000, but Alaska suffered net losses in domestic migration of over 37,500 from 1985 to 1990, and 21,000 from 1990 and 1998.

Mobility is a way of life in Alaska. Urbanization increased with migration during the 1980s; the urban population increased from 64.5% of the total population in 1980 to 67.5% in 1990. In the 1990s, migration added 17,000 people to the state. In 1998, Alaska admitted 1,008 immigrants. Between 1995 and 1998, the population increased 2.1%. In the period 200005, net international migration was 5,800 and net internal migration was 4,619, for a net gain of 1,181 people.


Alaska participates with Washington, Oregon, and California in the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. Alaska also belongs to other Western regional agreements covering energy, corrections, radioactive waste, and education. The most important federal-state effort, the Joint Federal-State Land Use Planning Commission, was involved with the Alaska lands controversy throughout the 1970s. The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact was enacted in 1980. In 1990, Alaska also joined the Western States/British Columbia Oil Spill Tax Force. Federal grants to Alaska amounted to $2.3 billion in fiscal year 2001; following a national trend, they declined markedly thereafter, to $1.634 billion in fiscal year 2005, an estimated $1.751 billion in fiscal year 2006, and an estimated $1.849 billion in fiscal year 2007.


When Alaska gained statehood in 1959, its economy was almost totally dependent on the US government. Fisheries, limited mining (mostly gold and gravel), and some lumber production made up the balance. That all changed with development of the petroleum industry during the 1970s. Construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline brought a massive infusion of money and people into the state. Construction, trade, and services boomedonly to decline when the pipeline was completed.

One area of growth in the 1980s and early 1990s was the Alaska groundfish industry. Commercial fishing is one of the bulwarks of the Alaska economy. The seafood industry had wholesale values of more than $3 billion in 1990, and Alaska's fishery accounts for 50% of the total annual US catch. The volume of Alaska ground-fish catches rose from 69 million lb (31.3 million kg) in 1980 to 4.8 billion lb (2.2 billion kg) in 1990. Employment in seafood harvesting grew from 45,000 in 1980 to 54,000 in 1991, although the boom has slowed somewhat since.

The tourism industry attracted over 1.1 million visitors in 2000, and contrary to national trends, continued to expand into 2002. The number of inbound cruise ship visitors, for example, increased 14% from summer 2001 to summer 2002. As of 2005, tourism had become the state's second-largest private-sector employer, gener-ating $640 million in payroll and 30,700 jobs. Overall, tourism brings in more than $1 billion annually to the state. Other important industries include timber, mining (including gold, coal, silver, and zinc), and agriculture. From 1997 to 2002, increased environmental regulations and foreign competition from, particularly, Chile and Norway contributed to a decline in employment in the traditional seafood-packing industry of more than 15%. On the other hand, employment in both state and local government and in the hotels and lodging industry increased by almost 15%. Employment in the oil and gas extraction sector increased by about 5% from 1997 to 2002, while employment with the federal government decreased almost 3%. In 2006, rising oil prices, reflecting political instability among suppliers such as Nigeria, Iraq, and possibly Iran, were expected to benefit the Alaskan economy.

In 2004, Alaska's gross state product (GSP) was $34.023 billion, of which the mining sector (including oil extraction) accounted for $7.328 billion or 21.5% of GSP, followed by real estate, rental and leasing at $3.209 billion, or 9% of GSP. The manufacturing sector contributed $725 million, or just over 2% of GSP in 2004. As in other states, small business plays an important role in the state's economy. In 2004, the state had an estimated 63,497 small businesses. Of the 16,975 firms that year with employees, 16,443 or 96.9% were considered small businesses. However, the creation of new businesses fell 24.3% from 2003 to 2004. Business terminations in 2004 totaled 2,650, up 5.7% from 2003, although business bankruptcies in 2004 fell 47.1% (to 64) that year. In 2005, Alaska had the lowest personal bankruptcy rate in the United States. The combined Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy rate in the state stood at 216 filings per 100,000 people.


In 2005 Alaska had a gross state product (GSP) of $40 billion, which accounted for 0.3% of the nation's gross domestic product and placed the state at number 46 in highest GSP among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2004 Alaska had a per capita personal income (PCPI) of $34,000. This ranked 17th in the United States and was 103% of the national average of $33,050. The 19942004 average annual growth rate of PCPI was 3.1%. Alaska had a total personal income (TPI) of $22,363,425,000, which ranked 48th in the United States and reflected an increase of 4.4% from 2003. The 19942004 average annual growth rate of TPI was 4.0%. Earnings of persons employed in Alaska increased from $17,903,311,000 in 2003 to $19,099,127,000 in 2004, an increase of 6.7%. The 200304 national change was 6.3%.

The US Census Bureau reports that the three-year average median household income for 200204 in 2004 dollars was $54,627, compared to a national average of $44,473. During the same period an estimated 9.2% of the population was below the poverty line as compared to 12.4% nationwide.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in April 2006 the seasonally adjusted civilian labor force in Alaska numbered 342,300, with approximately 24,000 workers unemployed, yielding an unemployment rate of 7%, compared to the national average of 4.7% for the same period. Preliminary data for the same period placed nonfarm employment at 313,800. Since the beginning of the BLS data series in 1976, the highest unemployment rate recorded in Alaska was 11.5% in July 1986. The historical low was 5.9% in September 1999. Preliminary nonfarm employment data by occupation for April 2006 showed that approximately 6.1% of the labor force was employed in construction; 20.4% in trade, transportation, and public utilities; 4.7% in financial activities; 7.5% in professional and business services; 11.4% in education and health services; 9.9% in leisure and hospitality services; and 26% in government. Data for manufacturing was unavailable.

The US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2005, a total of 63,000 of Alaska's 275,000 employed wage and salary workers were formal members of a union. This represented 22.8% of those so employed, up from 20.1% in 2004, above the national average of 12%. Overall in 2005, a total of 66,000 workers (24.1%) in Alaska were covered by a union or employee association contract, which includes those workers who reported no union affiliation. Alaska is one of 28 states that does not have a right-to-work law. It is also one out of only five states with a union membership rate of over 20%.

As of 1 March 2006, Alaska had a state-mandated minimum wage rate of $7.15 per hour. In 2004, women accounted for 46% of the employed civilian labor force.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is especially strong in the state, covering a range of workers from truck drivers to school administrators.


A short but intense growing season provides good potential for Alaska commercial agriculture, although the expense of getting agricultural products to market is a limiting factor. International export opportunities are being developed. Alaska's 620 farms covered 900,000 acres (364,000 hectares) in 2004. Commodities including hay, potatoes, lettuce, cabbage, carrots, beef, pork, dairy products, and greenhouse and nursery items are commonly produced. In 2004, hay production was 28,000 tons, valued at $6,440,000; potatoes, 177,000 hundredweight (8 million kg), $3,469,000; and barley for grain, 145,000 tons, $500,000. The leading farming regions of Alaska are the Matanuska Valley, northeast of Anchorage, and Delta Junction, north of Fairbanks.


Dairy and livestock products account for about 55% of Alaska's agricultural receipts. In 2003, an estimated 16.7 million lb (7.6 million kg) of milk were produced. Milk cows numbered 1,300 in 2003. Meat and poultry production is negligible by national standards.


In 2005 Alaska was the leading commercial fishing state in terms of volume and value. The total catch was over 5.3 billion lb (2.4 billion kg), valued at over $1.711 billion. Landings at the port of Dutch Harbor-Unalaska had the highest volume of all US domestic ports (886.4 million lb/402.9 million kg) and the second highest catch in terms of value ($155 million). The Kodiak port ranked fourth in the nation in volume (312.6 million lb/142 million kg) and fourth in value ($91 million).

According to 2004 figures, the salmon catch, the staple of the industry, amounted to 697.8 million lb (317.1 million kg), valued at $225.3 million and representing 94% of total US salmon landings. The distribution of Alaska salmon landings by species that year was pink, 43%; sockeye, 36%; chum, 14%; coho, 5%; and chinook, 2%. Landings of pollock amounted to 3.4 billion lb (1.5 billion kg), and the Pacific cod catch came to about 586.7 million lb (266.7 million kg). The Alaskan catch of sea herring (at 70.8 million lb/32.2 million kg) accounted for 94% of the Pacific coast catch. Alaska had the nation's third largest catch of dungeness crab, a major export item for the state.

As of 2003, Alaska had 306 processing and wholesale plants with an average of 8,077 employees. In 2002, the commercial fishing fleet had 14,035 boats and vessels.

Anglers are also attracted by Alaska's abundant stocks of salmon and trout. There were about 468,735 sport anglers licensed in Alaska in 2004.


In 2004, Alaska's forested area was 127,380,000 acres (51,550,000 hectares), far more than any other state. However, the area of harvestable timberland was only 11,865,000 acres (4,801,000 hectares). Some 35,875,000 acres (14,519,000 hectares) of forestland were privately held in 2004. Alaska contains the nation's largest national forests, Tongass in the southeast (17.4 million acres7 million hectares) and Chugach along the Gulf Coast (6.9 million acres2.8 million hectares).

Timber companies harvest logs from the two national forests, with the majority from the Tongass National Forest. The timber is made available for harvest through a competitive bidding process. Timber removals in 2003 totaled 140 million cu ft.


Preliminary data from the US Geological Survey put the value of Alaska's nonfuel mineral production in 2004 at an estimated $1.32 billion, up about 22% over 2003 and up almost 2% from 2002 to 2003. Metallic minerals accounted for 94% of Alaska's total non-fuel mineral production in 2004, most of it the result of zinc, lead, and silver production at the Red Dog Mine in the northwestern part of the state and the Greens Creek Mine in southeastern Alaska (southwest of Juneau), and of gold production at the Fort Knox Mine near Fairbanks and the Greens Creek Mine. Overall, Alaska retained its 12th ranked position among the 50 states in total non-fuel mineral output, accounting for 3% of US production.

According to preliminary figures for 2004, Alaska produced 2.8 million metric tons of crushed stone, valued at $16.5 million, and 10.2 million metric tons of sand and gravel, valued at $58 million. Gold and silver production in 2002 (the latest year for which data was available) totaled 16,900 kg and 559,000 kg, respectively, and was valued at $170 million and $83.1 million, respectively.

Although reported placer gold production was limited, it did reflect an increase in output in 2004 of up to 873 kg. In 2003, reported production totaled 734 kg.

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR) presents reclamation awards to mining firms for exemplary work in returning disturbed ground to useful condition as required by state law. In 2004, the award was given to two employees from Taiga Mining Co for work on Bear Creek and its Dry and Ida creek tributaries.


As of 2003, Alaska had 73 electrical power service providers, of which 34 were publicly owned, 21 were investor owned and 18 were cooperatives. As of that same year, there were 290,842 retail customers. Of that total, over 207,630 received their power from cooperatives. Publicly owned service providers accounted for 56,553 customers, while investor owned providers had 26,659 customers.

Total net summer generating capability by the state's electric-generating plants in 2003 stood at 1.896 million kW, with total production that same year at 6.388 billion kWh. Of the total amount generated, 89.5% came from electric utilities, with the remainder coming from independent producers and combined heat and power service providers. The largest portion of all electric power generated, 3.354 billion kWh (52.9%), came from natural gas-fired plants, with hydroelectric plants in second place at 1.582 billion kWh (25%). Petroleum fueled plants accounted for 13.4% of all power produced, while coal accounted for 8.7%. Alaska had no nuclear power plants.

As of 2004, Alaska had proven crude oil reserves of 4,327 million barrels, or 20% of all US reserves, while output that same year averaged 908,000 barrels per day. Including federal offshore domains, Alaska that year ranked third (second excluding federal offshore) in reserves and in output among the 31 producing states. Alaska had 1,924 producing oil wells and accounted for 17% of all US production. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline runs 789 mi (1,270 km) from the North Slope oil fields to the port of Valdez on the southern coast. Most of Alaska's energy products are produced and refined locally. As of 2005, the state's six refineries had a combined crude distillation capacity of about 374,000 barrels per day.

In 2004, Alaska had 224 producing natural gas and gas condensate wells. In that same year, marketed gas production (all gas produced excluding gas used for repressuring, vented and flared, and nonhydrocarbon gases removed) totaled 471.899 billion cu ft (13.4 billion cu m). As of 31 December 2004, proven reserves of dry or consumer-grade natural gas totaled 8,407 billion cu ft (238.7 billion cu m).

Alaska in 2004, had only one producing coal mine, which was a surface operation. Coal production that same year totaled 1,512,000 short tons, up from 1,081,000 short tons in 2003. The state's sole coal mine was located at Healy.


Alaska's manufacturing sector is primarily centered on the manufacture of food products, particularly seafood, although there is some petroleum refining, apparel manufacturing, and lumber processing.

According to the US Census Bureau's Annual Survey of Manufactures (ASM) for 2004, Alaska's manufacturing sector had a total shipment value of $50.680 million. Of that total, the manufacturing of food products accounted for $31.039 million.

In 2004, a total of 10,262 people in Alaska were employed in the state's manufacturing sector, according to the ASM. Of that total, 8,696 were actual production workers. In the food manufacturing industry that same year, there were 7,289 production workers, of which 6,486 were actually involved in the production process.

ASM data for 2004 showed that Alaska's manufacturing sector paid $351.542 million in wages. Of that amount, the food-manufacturing sector accounted for $207.230 million.


According to the 2002 Census of Wholesale Trade, Alaska's wholesale trade sector had sales that year totaling $3.6 billion from 740 establishments. Wholesalers of durable goods accounted for 393 establishments, followed by nondurable goods wholesalers at 308 and electronic markets, agents, and brokers accounting for 39 establishments. Sales by durable goods wholesalers in 2002 totaled $1.6 billion, while wholesalers of nondurable goods saw sales of $1.7 billion. Electronic markets, agents, and brokers in the wholesale trade industry had sales of $181.7 million.

In the 2002 Census of Retail Trade, Alaska was listed as having 2,661 retail establishments with sales of $7.4 billion. The leading types of retail businesses by number of establishments were: miscellaneous store retailers (458); food and beverage stores (384); motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts dealers (302); clothing and clothing accessories stores (259); and sporting goods, hobby, book, and music stores (247). In terms of sales, general-merchandise stores accounted for the largest share of retail sales at $1.8 billion, followed by motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts dealers at $1.7 billion, and food and beverage stores at $1.2 billion. A total of 32,984 people were employed by the retail sector in Alaska that year.

During 2005, Alaskan exporters sold $3.5 billion of merchandise. Many of Alaska's resource products, including the salmon and crab catch, pass through the Seattle customs district. By federal law, Alaskan petroleum cannot be exported to other countries, a provision many Alaskans would like to see repealed. Around one-third of Alaska's manufactured goods were exported to other countries, with paper and food products being major items.


Consumer protection in Alaska is the responsibility of the Consumer Protection Unit of the Department of Law, which falls under the Office of the Attorney General and provides consumers with information, investigates business and trade practices, and enforces statutes prohibiting unfair, false, misleading, or deceptive acts and practices.

When dealing with consumer protection issues, the state's Attorney General's Office can initiate civil and criminal proceedings; represent the state before state and federal regulatory agencies; administer consumer protection and education programs; handle formal consumer complaints; and exercise broad subpoena powers. In antitrust actions, the Attorney General's Office can act on behalf of those consumers who are incapable of acting on their own; initiate damage actions on behalf of the state in state or federal courts; and initiate criminal proceedings. However, the state's Attorney General cannot represent counties, cities, and other governmental entities in recovering civil damages under state or federal law.

The offices of the Consumer Protection Unit are located in Anchorage.


As of June 2005, Alaska had seven insured banks, savings and loans, and saving banks, in addition to one state-chartered and eleven federally chartered credit unions (CUs). Excluding the CUs, Anchorage and Fairbanks each accounted for five and six financial institutions, respectively in 2004. Unlike other states, CUs play a major role in the state's financial industry. As of June 2005, CUs accounted for 49.3% of all assets held by all financial institutions in the state, or some $3.909 billion. Banks, savings and loans, and savings banks collectively accounted for the remaining $4.020 billion in assets held.

Alaska's state-chartered banks are under the regulatory authority of the Department of Community and Economic Development's Division of Banking, Securities, and Corporations, including the Denali State Bank and the Northrim Bank. As of 2003, approximately 18.72% of all bank assets in Alaska were held in state-chartered institutions. The state's federally chartered banks are under the regulatory authority of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

As of 2004, the state's median net interest margin (the difference between the lower rates offered to savers and the higher rates charged on loans) stood at 4.88%, up from 4.86% in 2003.


In 2004, there were 178,000 individual life insurance policies in force, with a total value of $27.7 billion; total value for all categories of life insurance (individual, group, and credit) was $41.2 billion. The average coverage amount is $156,000 per policy holder. Death benefits paid that year totaled $80.5 million.

As of 2003, there were no life insurance companies based on Alaska, but seven property and casualty insurance companies were domiciled there. Direct premiums for property and casualty insurance amounted to $1.4 billion in 2004. That year, there were 2,429 flood insurance policies in force in the state, with a total value of $410.8 million.

In 2004, 52% of state residents held employment-based health insurance policies, 4% held individual policies, and 21% were covered under Medicare and Medicaid; 18% of residents were uninsured. In 2003, employee contributions for employment-based health coverage averaged are 11% for single coverage and 17% for family coverage, representing one of the lowest employee contribution rates in the country. Alaska does not offer extended health benefits in connection with the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA, 1986), a health insurance extension program for those who lose employment-based coverage due to termination or reduction of work hours.

In 2003, there were 375,498 auto insurance policies in effect for private passenger cars. Required minimum coverage includes bodily injury liability of up to $50,000 per individual and $100,000 for all persons injured, as well as property damage liability of $25,000. In 2003, the average expenditure per vehicle for insurance coverage was $937.32, which ranked as the tenth-highest average in the nation.

The insurance industry is regulated by the Department of Commerce and Economic Development's Division of Insurance.


There are no securities exchanges in Alaska. In 2005, there were 260 securities, commodities, and financial services sales agents. In 2004, there were over six publicly traded companies within the state, with over three NASDAQ companies: Alaska Communications Systems Group, Inc.; General Communications, Inc.; and Northern Bank.

The Alaska Securities Act of 1959 serves as the foundation for the regulation of the sale of securities through a triple-tiered system of registration for brokers and dealers, as well as through antifraud provisions.


Alaska's annual budget is prepared by the Division of Budget and Management within the Office of the Governor, and is submitted by the governor to the legislature for amendment and approval. The fiscal year (FY) runs from 1 July through 30 June. Alaska's budget process is by and large timely, as is its financial reporting, with good audit results. The state depends on petroleum-based revenues. In 2006, general funds were estimated at nearly $3.9 billion for resources and $3.9 billion for expenditures. In 2004, federal government grants to Alaska were $3.2 billion. In 2007, federal funding for the construction of an Alaska Region Research Vessel for studying changes in the ocean around Alaska is provided, as well as more funding for the Indian Health Service and Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund (PCSRF), for tribal efforts at habitat restoration, and funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Coastal Zone Management Program.


In 2005, Alaska collected $1,851 million in tax revenues or $2,787 per capita, which placed it eighth among the 50 states in per capita tax burden. The national average was $2,192 per capita. Property taxes accounted for 2.3% of the total; selective sales taxes, 10.3%; corporate income taxes, 31.8%; and other taxes 55.6%.

As of 1 January 2006, Alaska had no state income tax, a distinction it shared with Wyoming, Washington, Nevada, Florida, Texas, and South Dakota. The state taxes corporations at rates ranging from 1.0 to 9.4% depending on tax bracket.

In 2004, state and local property taxes amounted to $859,056,000, or $1,306 per capita. The per capita amount ranks the state 12th highest nationally. Local governments collected $811,688,000 of the total and the state government, $47,368,000.

Alaska does not tax retail sales. However, Alaskan cities and boroughs may levy local sales taxes from 1% to 6%. Food purchased for consumption off-premises is taxable. As of 2004, the tax on cigarettes is 160 cents per pack, which ranks seventh among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Alaska taxes gasoline at 8 cents per gallon. This is in addition to the 18.4 cents per gallon federal tax on gasoline.

AlaskaState Government Finances
(Dollar amounts in thousands. Per capita amounts in dollars.)
Abbreviations and symbols: - zero or rounds to zero; (NA) not available; (X) not applicable.
source: U.S. Census Bureau, Governments Division, 2004 Survey of State Government Finances, January 2006.
Total Revenue 8,847,705 13,446.36
  General revenue 6,625,657 10,069.39
   Intergovernmental revenue 2,193,578 3,333.71
   Taxes 1,338,707 2,034.51
    General sales - -
    Selective sales 168,392 255.91
    License taxes 83,738 127.26
    Individual income tax - -
    Corporate income tax 339,564 516.05
    Other taxes 747,013 1,135.28
   Current charges 377,517 573.73
   Miscellaneous general revenue 2,715,855 4,127.44
  Utility revenue 14,161 21.52
  Liquor store revenue - -
  Insurance trust revenue 2,207,887 3,355.45
Total expenditure 8,089,240 12,293.68
  Intergovernmental expenditure 1,049,706 1,595.30
  Direct expenditure 7,039,534 10,698.38
    Current operation 4,529,620 6,883.92
    Capital outlay 886,846 1,347.79
    Insurance benefits and repayments 1,165,261 1,770.91
    Assistance and subsidies 206,582 313.95
    Interest on debt 251,225 381.80
Exhibit: Salaries and wages 1,199,170 1,822.45
Total expenditure 8,089,240 12,293.68
  General expenditure 6,834,832 10,387.28
   Intergovernmental expenditure 1,049,706 1,595.30
   Direct expenditure 5,785,126 8,791.98
  General expenditures, by function:
   Education 1,707,847 2,595.51
   Public welfare 1,471,607 2,236.48
   Hospitals 23,043 35.02
   Health 118,307 179.80
   Highways 828,835 1,259.63
   Police protection 61,681 93.74
   Correction 176,642 268.45
   Natural resources 247,000 375.38
   Parks and recreation 9,527 14.48
   Government administration 432,840 657.81
   Interest on general debt 242,443 368.45
   Other and unallocable 1,515,060 2,302.52
 Utility expenditure 89,147 135.48
 Liquor store expenditure - -
 Insurance trust expenditure 1,165,261 1,770.91
Debt at end of fiscal year 5,730,403 8,708.82
Cash and security holdings 45,325,821 68,884.23

According to the Tax Foundation, for every federal tax dollar sent to Washington in 2004, Alaska citizens received $1.87 in federal spending, which ranks the state second-highest nationally.


The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), a public corporation of the state, provides long-term financing for capital investments and loans for most commercial and industrial activities, including manufacturing, small business, tourism, mining, commercial fishing, and other enterprises. In 1985 its mission was extended to provide financing for infrastructural projects to support private enterprise in Alaska. In 2000, economic development projects included the Gateway Alaska project, which undertook reconstruction of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and surrounding roads. Under the AIDEA's Conduit Revenue Bond Program, designed to facilitate access to the state bond market, Hope Community Resources in 2002 was able to borrow to expand its facilities for providing services for the developmentally disabled. In 1999, the Rural Development Initiative Fund, created in 1992 to help small businesses not eligible for traditional commercial finance, was transferred to the AIDEA. The AIDEA also has oversight over the Alaska Energy Authority which was created in 1976 and has responsibility for two major programs, the Alaska Rural Energy Plan and the Statewide Energy Plan. The rural population poses a challenge to economic development of the state, which the state government has begun to address by broadening the utilities infrastructure and by subsidizing energy costs. The Alaska Science and Technology Foundation (ASTF), created in 1988, has as its mission the improvement of the state economy through investments in science and technology. The state imposes no taxes on income, sales, gross receipts or inventories. It offers an investment tax credit for the development of gas-processing projects and for the mining of minerals and other natural deposits, except oil and gas.

In 2004, the Office of Economic Development (OED) was established. The OED facilitates economic development and employment opportunities, particularly in rural Alaska. The OED offers specialized assistance in the tourism, fisheries, and minerals development sectors.


The infant mortality rate in October 2005 was estimated at 5.8 per 1,000 live births. The birth rate in 2003 was 15.6 per 1,000 population. The abortion rate stood at 11.7 per 1,000 women in 2000. In 2003, about 79.8% of pregnant woman received prenatal care beginning in the first trimester. In 2004, approximately 75% of children received routine immunizations before the age of three.

The crude death rate in 2003 was 4.9 deaths per 1,000 population. As of 2002, the death rates for major causes of death (per 100,000 resident population) were: heart disease, 88.1; cancer, 111.1; cerebrovascular diseases, 24.5; chronic lower respiratory diseases, 22.1; and diabetes, 13.4. The death rates for heart disease and diabetes represent the lowest in the nation. However, Alaska has the second-highest suicide rate (after Wyoming), with 20.5 per 100,000 residents. The state also has one of the highest rates for accidental deaths at 53.7 per 100,000. The 2002 mortality rate from HIV infection was not available. In 2004, the reported AIDS case rate was 8.4 per 100,000 population. In 2002, about 59.5% of the population was considered overweight or obese, representing the fifth-highest percentage in the nation. As of 2004, about 24.7% of state residents were smokers.

In 2003, Alaska had 19 community hospitals, with about 1,500 beds. There were about 46,000 patient admissions that year and 1.4 million outpatient visits. The average daily inpatient census was about 800 patients. The average cost per day for hospital care was $1,952. Also in 2003, there were about 15 certified nursing facilities in the state, with 821 beds and an overall occupancy rate of about 76.8%. In 2004, it was estimated that about 69.6% of all state residents had received some type of dental care within the past year. Alaska had 217 physicians per 100,000 resident population in 2004 and 761 nurses per 100,000 in 2005. In 2004, there was a total of 490 dentists in the state.

About 21% of state residents were enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare programs in 2004. Approximately 18% of the state population was uninsured in 2004. In 2003, state health care expenditures totaled $1.2 million.

Alaska's Pioneer Homes, operated by the state's Department of Administration, are residential facilities for Alaskans over 65 (with at least one year of residency in the state) that offer five levels of care, from independent living to full medical care, including Alzheimer's disease units. As of 1997, a total of 600 residents were being served at six locations.


In 2004, about 46,000 people received unemployment benefits, with an average weekly unemployment benefit of $194. In fiscal year 2005, the estimated average monthly participation in the food stamp program included about 55,567 persons (20,224 households); the average monthly benefit was about $120.58 per person. That year, the total benefits paid through the state for the food stamp program totaled $80.4 million.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the system of federal welfare assistance that officially replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) in 1997, was reauthorized through the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. TANF is funded through federal block grants that are divided among the states based on an equation involving the number of recipients in each state. Alaska's TANF program is called the Alaska Temporary Assistance Program (ATAP). In 2004, the state program had 14,000 recipients; state and federal expenditures on this TANF program totaled $59 million in 2003.

In December 2004, Social Security benefits were paid to 63,440 Alaskans. This number included 37,150 retired workers, 5,260 widows and widowers, 9,380 disabled workers, 2,920 spouses, and 8,730 children. Social Security beneficiaries represented 9.6% of the total state population and 92.3% of the state's population age 65 and older. Retired workers received an average monthly payment of $920; widows and widowers, $840; disabled workers, $868; and spouses, $419. Payments for children of retired workers averaged $418 per month; children of deceased workers, $605; and children of disabled workers, $231. Federal Supplemental Security Income payments in December 2004 went to 10,781 Alaska residents, averaging $387 a month. About $4.3 million of state-administered supplemental payments was distributed to 14,980 residents.

In 1979, Alaska became the first state to withdraw its government workers from the Social Security system.


Despite the severe winters, housing designs in Alaska do not differ notably from those in other states. Builders do usually provide thicker insulation in walls and ceilings, but the high costs of construction have not encouraged more energy-efficient adaptation to the environment. In 1980, the state legislature passed several measures to encourage energy conservation in housing and in public buildings. In native villages, traditional dwellings like the half-buried huts of the Aleuts and others have long since given way to conventional, low-standard housing. In point of fact, Alaska's Eskimos never built snow houses, as did those of Canada; in the Eskimo language, the word igloo refers to any dwelling.

In 2004, there were an estimated 271,533 housing units, of which 228,358 were occupied. Alaska had the second-smallest housing stock in the nation, (above Wyoming). The same year, about 65.5% of all occupied units were owner-occupied. About 61% of all units were single-family, detached dwellings. It was estimated that about 5,542 units statewide were without telephone service, while 6,017 lacked complete plumbing facilities and 5,489 lacked complete kitchen facilities. The average household had 2.78 members.

From 1970 to 1978, 43,009 building permits were issued, as construction boomed during the years of pipeline building. In 2004, the state authorized 3,100 new privately owned housing units. The median home value was $179,304. The median monthly cost for mortgage owners was $1,421, while the median monthly rental cost was $808. In September 2005, the state was awarded grants of $150,000 from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for rural housing and economic development programs. For 2006, HUD allocated to the state over $2.5 million in community development block grants.

The Alaska State Housing Authority acts as an agent for federal and local governments in securing financial aid for construction and management of low-rent and moderate-cost homes.


As of 2004, 90.2% of the population 25 years or older had completed high school. Some 25.5% had obtained a bachelor's degree or higher.

Enrollment in public schools was 134,000 in the fall of 2002. Of these, 94,000 attended schools from kindergarten through grade eight, and 40,000 attended high school. Approximately 58.9% of the students were white, 4.7% were black, 3.9% were Hispanic, 6.5% were Asian/Pacific Islander, and 26% were American Indian/Alaskan Native. Total enrollment was estimated at 134,000 in fall 2003 and expected to be 145,000 by fall 2014, a 7.7% increase during the period 200214. There were 6,177 students enrolled in 75 private schools in fall 2003. Expenditures for public education in 2003/04 were estimated at $1.6 billion or $10,114 per student, the eighth-highest among the 50 states. Since 1969, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has tested public school students nationwide. The resulting report, The Nation's Report Card, stated that in 2005, eighth graders in Alaska scored 279 out of 500 in mathematics, compared with the national average of 278.

The University of Alaska is the state's leading higher-educational institution. The main campus, established in 1917, is at Fairbanks; satellite campuses are located in Anchorage and Juneau. Private institutions include Sheldon Jackson College, Alaska Bible College (a theological seminary), and Alaska Pacific University. The University of Alaska's Rural Education Division has a network of education centers. As of fall 2002, there were 29,546 students enrolled in college or graduate school; minority students comprised 24.3% of total postsecondary enrollment. As of 2005, Alaska had eight degree-granting institutions.


The Alaska Council on the Arts (ASCA), founded in 1966, sponsors tours by performing artists, supports artists' residencies in the schools, aids local arts projects, and purchases the works of living Alaskans for display in state buildings. In 2005, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded seven grants totaling $1,077,348 to Alaska organizations. In 2005, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded 11 grants totaling $698,500 to Alaska arts organizations. Alaska is also a member state of the regional Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF).

Symphony orchestras are located in Fairbanks, Juneau, and Anchorage. The Anchorage Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1945. Anchorage also has a civic opera, incorporated in 1962. The annual Alaska Folk Festival in Juneau (est. 1975) held its 32nd festival in 2006. It is one of the largest cultural/musical festivals in the state, drawing over 10,000 people each year by providing such activities as folk music performances, dance workshops, and family concerts.


For the fiscal year ending in June 2001, Alaska had 86 public library systems, with a total of 103 libraries, of which 17 were branches. The public systems had a combined book and serial publications stock of 2,264,000 volumes and a total circulation of 3,628,000 that same year. The system also had 87,000 audio and 101,000 video items, 3,000 electronic format items (CD-ROMs, magnetic tapes, and disks), and two bookmobiles. Facilities were located in seven boroughs and in most larger towns. Anchorage had the largest public library system, with five branches and 554,686 volumes in 1998. Also notable are the State Library in Juneau and the library of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks (with 954,510 and 60,000 volumes, respectively). Total operating income for the public library system in 2001 was $23,681,000; including $787,000 in state grants.

Alaska had 44 museums in 2000. The Alaska State Museum in Juneau offers an impressive collection of native crafts and Alaskan artifacts. Sitka National Historical Park features Indian and Russian items, and the nearby Museum of Sheldon Jackson College holds important native collections. Noteworthy historical and archaeological sites include the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan. Anchorage has the Anchorage Museum of History and Art and the Alaska Zoo.


Considering the vast distances traveled and the number of small, scattered communities, the US mail is a bargain for Alaskans. In 2004, 95.6% of the state's residences had telephones. In addition, by June of that same year there were 307,323 mobile wireless telephone subscribers. In 2003, 72.7% of Alaska households had a computer and 67.6% had Internet access. By June 2005, there were 95,763 high-speed lines in Alaska (80,556 residential and 5,207 for business). A total of 13,558 Internet domain names had been registered in Alaska as of 2000.

There were 41 major radio stations (13 AM, 28 FM) in 2005, along with 15 television stations. Prime Cable of Alaska is the state's major cable carrier.


Alaska's most widely read newspaper, among its seven dailies and five Sunday papers, is the Anchorage Daily News. Below are the leading newspapers with their circulations.

Anchorage Daily News (m) 76,231 (S) 82,179
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (m) 16,127 (S) 21,557

There are about 30 publishers in Alaska, including the University of Alaska Press, Denali Press, Alaska Geographic, Rainforest Publishers, and Inside Passage Press. Alaska Business Monthly, Alaska magazine, and Alaska Outdoors are popular statewide magazines.

In 2005, there were 18 weekly publications in Alaska, 11 paid weeklies, 2 free weeklies, and 5 combined weeklies. The total circulation of paid weeklies (45,634) and free weeklies (37,949) is 83,583.


In 2006, there were over 1,030 nonprofit organizations registered within the state, of which about 708 were registered as charitable, educational, or religious organizations. The largest statewide organization, the Alaska Federation of Natives, with headquarters in Anchorage, represents the state's Eskimos, Aleuts, and American Indians. The Maniilaq Association, based in Kotzebue, is another tribal organization serving native Eskimos. Alutiiq Heritage Foundation is based in Kodiak. Ketchikan Indian Community is a social services organization for Alaskan natives.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association is one of several local professional and business associations. Environmental groups include the Alaska Conservation Alliance, the Alaska Conservation Foundation, the Alaska Geographic Society, and the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. Arts and culture are represented in part by the Alaska Historical Society. The International Association for Spiritual Consciousness, which promotes such practices as meditation and yoga, is based in Anchorage.


With thousands of miles of unspoiled scenery and hundreds of mountains and lakes, Alaska has vast tourist potential. In fact, tourism has become the second-largest private-sector employer in the state. Alaska's tourism industry is estimated at over $1 billion per year. The industry, directly and indirectly, generates an annual average of 23,000 jobs and $640 million in payroll (not including employment on cruise ships). In 2004, some 52,000 visitors came from overseas. Alaska had the highest rate of growth in travel and tourism, a rise of 4.3%.

The Far North region of Alaska is home to many native Inuit (Eskimo) groups. The city of Nome is home to the famous Iditarod Trail Seld Dog Race. The Southwest region (Kodiak) exhibits the Russian influence, as seen in its Orthodox churches. Popular cities visited by tourists are, Juneau, Fairbanks, Ketchican, and Skagway. Tourists can travel by rail to the interior regions. There are many popular gold-mining sites, nature preserves, historic towns dating from the days of the gold rush, and glaciers.

Cruise travel along the Gulf of Alaska is one of the fastest growing sectors in the tourist trade. Sportfishing and outdoor adventure opportunities have also become popular. Millions of visitors travel to the state's national parks, preserves, historical parks, and monuments, which totaled 52.9 million acres (21.7 million hectares) in 1999. Denali State Park is home to Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America. Another popular tourist destination is Glacier Bay National Monument.


There are no major professional sports teams in Alaska, but there is a minor league hockey team in Anchorage. In addition, college hockey teams, such as the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, are involved at the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I level. Sports in Alaska generally revolve around the outdoors, including skiing, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and camping. Perhaps the biggest sporting event in the state is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, covering 1,159 mi (1,865 km) from Anchorage to Nome. The race is held in March, and both men and women compete. With a $50,000 purse, it is the most lucrative sled dog race in the world.

Other annual sporting events include the Great Alaska Shootout, in which college basketball teams from around the country compete in Anchorage in November, and the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks in July.


Alaskan's best-known federal officeholder was Ernest Gruening (b.New York, 18871974), a territorial governor from 1939 to 1953 and US senator from 1959 to 1969. Alaska's other original US senator was E. L. "Bob" Bartlett (190468). Walter Hickel (b.Kansas, 1919), the first Alaskan to serve in the US cabinet, left the governorship in 1969 to become secretary of the interior. Among historical figures, Vitus Bering (b.Denmark, 16801741), a seaman in Russian service who commanded the discovery expedition in 1741, and Aleksandr Baranov (b.Russia, 17461819), the first governor of Russian America, are outstanding. Secretary of State William H. Seward (b.New York, 180172), who was instrumental in the 1867 purchase of Alaska, ranks as the state's "founding father," although he never visited the region.

Sheldon Jackson (b.New York, 18341909), a Presbyterian missionary, introduced the reindeer to the region and founded Alaska's first college in Sitka. Carl Ben Eielson (18971929), a famed bush pilot, is a folk hero. Benny Benson (191372), born at Chignik, designed the state flag at the age of 13.


Borneman, Walter R. Alaska: Saga of a Bold Land. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.

Council of State Governments. The Book of the States, 2006 Edition. Lexington, Ky.: Council of State Governments, 2006.

Haycox, Stephen W., and Mary Childers Mangusso (eds.). An Alaska Anthology: Interpreting the Past. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996.

Hedin, Robert, and Gary Holthaus (eds.). The Great Land: Reflections on Alaska. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994.

Kizzia, Tom. The Wake of the Unseen Object: Among the Native Cultures of Bush Alaska. New York: Henry Holt, 1992.

McBeath, Gerald A. Alaska Politics and Government. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.

O'Neill, Daniel T. A Land Gone Lonesome: An Inland Voyage along the Yukon River. New York: Counterpoint, 2006.

Ripley, Kate. Best Places Alaska. 3rd ed. Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 2003.

Ryan, Alan (ed.). The Reader's Companion to Alaska. San Diego, Calif.: Harcourt Brace, 1997.

Salisbury, Gay. The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race against an Epidemic. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.

US Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, US Census Bureau. Alaska, 2000. Summary Social, Economic, and Housing Characteristics: 2000 Census of Population and Housing. Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office, 2003.

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ALASKA. For most of its history as a U.S. possession, Alaska was known as the "last frontier," the last part of the country where would-be pioneers could go to live out the American dream of freedom and self-sufficiency through hard work and ingenuity. But with the rise of environmental consciousness in the 1960s and 1970s, that notion subsided. Alaska became America's "last wilderness," the last place in America with vast stretches of undeveloped, unpopulated land. In 1980 Congress designated 50 million acres of the state as wilderness, doubling the size of the national wilderness system.

Few Americans knew much about the region when the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867. Newspaper cartoons ridiculed the purchase as "Seward's Folly," "Icebergia," and "Walrussia." But informed Americans emphasized Alaska's resource potential in furbearers and minerals, and the U.S. Senate approved Secretary of State William H. Seward's purchase treaty in the summer of 1867 by a vote of 37–2.

At that time about thirty thousand indigenous people lived in the region, pursuing traditional subsistence. These people included the Inuit (northern Eskimos) who are culturally related to all Arctic indigenes; Yupik speakers (southern Eskimos) of the Yukon River and Kuskokwim River delta area; Aleut people living in the Aleutian Islands who are related to Alutiq-speaking people on the south shore of the Alaska Peninsula and on Kodiak Island; Dene-speaking Athabaskan Indians who live along the interior rivers; and the Dene-speaking Tlingit and Haida people (Pacific Northwest Coast Indians) of the Southeast Alaska Panhandle (Alexander Archipelago) who are related culturally to the coastal Indians of British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon.

Russian Interest

The Russians were the first outsiders to establish sustained contact with Alaska Native peoples, initially in the Aleutian Islands and later in the southeastern coastal islands. In 1725 Peter the Great commissioned an expedition to search east of Siberia for lands with economic resources useful to the Russian state. The expedition commander Vitus Bering failed to find America on his first attempt in 1728, but returning in 1741 he made a landfall on the Alaskan coast near Cape Suckling. Bering shipwrecked on a North Pacific island on his return voyage and died there on 8 December.

Bering's voyages did not provide a comprehensive picture of the geography of Northwest North America. That would await the third round-the-world voyage of Captain James Cook in 1778. But more than half of Bering's crew survived the shipwreck and returned to Kamchatka bringing pelts of various furbearers, including sea otter. Siberian fur trappers recognized the sea otter as the most valuable pelt in the world at the time, setting off a rush to the Aleutian Islands. Over the next half century, Russian trappers made one hundred individual voyages to the American islands to hunt sea otters, fur seals, and walrus, drawing Alaska's indigenous population into the world mercantilist economy.

American furs and walrus ivory were profitable for private investors who financed the voyages and for the Russian tsarist government, which took 10 percent of each voyage's profit. But the exploitation was costly to Alaska Natives. The Russians relied on Aleut Natives to hunt furbearers and held women and children hostage in the villages while Russian overseers traveled with the hunters. The entire Aleut population was brutalized and decimated by this practice, and new diseases the Russians introduced reduced the Aleut population from twenty thousand to two thousand by 1800.

Ranging relentlessly eastward, Russian trappers in 1759 discovered the Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak Island. In 1784 Grigory Shelekhov established the first permanent Russian post in North America on Kodiak Island. Returning to Russia, Shelekhov attempted to persuade Empress Catherine II to invest in the exploitation of North America, but concerned about Spanish and English interest in the region, she declined.

In 1799, however, Paul III chartered a government sponsored private monopoly, the Russian American Company. Over the next sixty years the company systematically exploited Alaska's resources, primarily furs, returning handsome profits to the stockholders and the government. During the company's first twenty-year charter, Aleksandr Baranov extended Russian activities into the Alexander Archipelago, and in 1824 and 1825 the United States and Britain signed treaties formalizing Russia's occupation there but claiming the area to the south, the Oregon Country, as their own. The 1825 treaty established permanent boundaries for Alaska. In 1812 Baranov also established a Russian agricultural post on the California coast, eighty miles north of San Francisco, but failed in an attempt to establish a similar post in Hawaii in 1815.

Russia did not attempt to establish a new society in North America. The largest number of Russians ever in the colony at one time was 823. They sought only the efficient exploitation of the easily accessible resources. Yet despite the participation of the Russian navy, the company and the government could not keep the enterprise adequately supplied. By midcentury the colony depended on the fiercely independent Tlingit Indians for food. When the Crimean War (1854–1856) demonstrated that Russian America could not be defended, critics began to advocate relinquishing the colony, the profitability of which was becoming a problem.

American Interest

Sale to the United States was the only alternative, as England was Russia's principal European antagonist. In the aftermath of the American Civil War, negotiations proceeded quickly. The United States purchased the colony for $7.2 million. The formal transfer was conducted at Sitka on 18 October 1867, which became a state holiday in Alaska.

Secretary Seward wanted Alaska primarily as a gateway to new markets in Asia for American agricultural and manufactured products. Others recognized Alaska's resource potential. But until those resources were actually discovered and developed, Americans showed little interest in the region. The 1880 census revealed 30,000 Natives and a mere 435 non-Natives. Congress waited to implement legislation organizing the territory until it was warranted by the immigration of more pioneer settlers.

These settlers arrived quickly after 1880, when gold was discovered and investors began development of the Treadwell Mines at Juneau to exploit large lode deposits. By 1884 Treadwell boasted the largest gold stamp mill in North America, prompting Congress to pass the first organic legislation for the region that authorized the appointment of a governor, a judge, and other civil officials. Sitka was named the capital. The act provided for acculturation of Alaska Natives at the direction of a "general agent of education" who was to establish schools in Native villages and in the few white towns.

At the same time the U.S. Army began a systematic reconnaissance of Alaska's interior, which was largely unmapped. Explorations by Henry Allen, William Abercrombie, John Cantwell, George Stoney, J. C. Castner, Edwin Fitch Glenn, and others produced a comprehensive understanding of Alaska's geography and physiography by the end of the century.

By 1890 the census counted over five thousand non-Natives, most in Juneau, Sitka, and Wrangell in the southeastern panhandle. A few hundred non-Native prospector-traders worked along the interior rivers, trapping and trading furs among the Athabaskan Indians. Two hundred ships annually worked the lucrative Bering Sea and Arctic whale fishery and traded with the coastal Inuit.

Prospectors discovered gold on the Forty mile River near the Canadian border in 1886 and on Birch Creek near Fort Yukon in 1891, generating increasing interest in Alaska's mineral prospects. In 1896 George Carmacks and his Indian companions discovered placer deposits of unprecedented extent on tributaries of the Klondike River in the Yukon Territory, setting off the gold rush of 1897–1898. Forty thousand argonauts crossed the mountain passes from the tidewater to the upper Yukon River en route to the gold fields. The rush was short-lived but intense. Four thousand people found gold, but only four hundred found it in quantities that might be considered a "fortune."

Many gold trekkers continued into Alaska and searched virtually every river system for minerals. Gold was found in the creeks of the Seward Peninsula in the fall of 1898, sparking a major rush there and the founding of Nome. Another find in the Tanana River drainage in 1902 led to the founding of Fairbanks. Other discoveries generated minor rushes in a score of places, but most played out quickly. New settlers established a large number of small communities, however, and the 1900 census showed thirty thousand non-Natives in the territory, a figure that stayed virtually the same until 1940.

Although Alaskan gold production peaked in 1906, the federal government adopted substantial legislation in response to the gold rush to nurture economic development and to sustain new settlement, including construction of a telegraph line that connected the territory to Seattle, a system of license fees to generate territorial government revenue, civil and criminal legal codes, and a federally owned and operated railroad, the last a unique feature of government support of western settlement. In 1906 Congress authorized the biennial election of a nonvoting territorial delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives and in 1914 a bicameral territorial legislature. At the same time Progressive Era conservation consciousness led to a number of federal conservation withdrawals, including the Tongass National Forest in 1905, the Chugach National Forest in 1907, Mount McKinley National Park in 1917, Katmai National Park in 1918, and Glacier Bay National Park in 1925.

The gold rush and government support also attracted corporate investors interested in developing Alaska's natural resources. By 1890 thirty-seven Pacific salmon canneries operated in Alaska, and by the end of the century more than twice that number operated. The invention of the fish trap, a system of surface to seafloor netting that led fish to a central enclosure, made fishing extremely efficient and produced high profits. By the 1920s moderate taxation of the salmon industry supplied three-fourths of territorial revenue.

The Guggenheim mining family also became interested in Alaska and early in the twentieth century developed a plan to coordinate development of gold, copper, coal, and oil deposits. Drawing the financier J. P. Morgan into a partnership, they created the Alaska Syndicate, which owned the Alaska Steamship Company; built, owned, and operated the Copper River and Northwestern Railway from Cordova at the tidewater to the Wrangell Mountains; owned the Kennecott Copper Mines; and developed oil deposits at Katalla. Their plans to develop coal deposits near Katalla were stopped when President Theodore Roosevelt closed access to Alaska coal lands in 1906 as a strategic measure. Deprived of the cheap, local source of coal, the syndicate scrapped plans to build their railroad to the Yukon River to link it to the internal river system. Having extracted $300 million worth of copper by 1939, the syndicate attempted to sell the railway to the federal government, but when negotiations collapsed, the partners dismantled the road and transferred the rails and rolling stock to operations in Arizona and Utah.

Aviation had a significant impact on Alaska and from the formation of the first companies in the mid-1920s developed rapidly. Perhaps more than in any other part of the country, the airplane in roadless Alaska permitted access to otherwise inaccessible areas, provided hope in times of medical emergency, and greatly speeded mail delivery. Bush pilots quickly became genuine heroes wherever in the territory they flew.

Federal aid helped Alaska weather the Great Depression. Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Civil Works Administration (CWA) loans for heavy public construction projects provided jobs, as did Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps in every section of the territory. Also Native leaders worked with the federal government to extend the Indian Reorganization Act to Alaska in 1936 and to authorize a broad land claims suit by the Tlingit and Haida Indians in 1935. In an unusual rural rehabilitation project, two hundred families from the upper Midwest were transported to the Matanuska Valley near Anchorage in 1935 to start farms. But the experiment failed, for construction jobs created by the remilitarization of Alaska beginning in 1940 promised faster economic advance for the new settlers.

World War II transformed Alaska economically as the government invested $3 billion in three hundred new military installations in the territory. The military personnel in the territory numbered 300,000, five times the 1940 population. Attempting to divert American Pacific forces away from Midway Island in June 1942, Japanese forces captured two Aleutian Islands. In a dramatic battle on American soil in May 1943, a combined American and Canadian force of fourteen thousand retook Attu Island, suffering five hundred killed and nine hundred wounded. The Japanese abandoned Kiska before the American invasion there.

Alaska gained population quickly during World War II. Afterward Cold War strategic defenses in the territory included airfields for long-range bombers and the Distant Early Warning radar net across the Arctic. The Atomic Energy Commission used Amchitka Island in the Aleutians for large-scale nuclear tests and contemplated using nuclear explosions to create a new harbor on Alaska's Arctic coast. Federal spending became the basis of the regional economy that supported a still-expanding population.


Shortly after the war territorial leaders began a campaign to achieve statehood for Alaska. They were opposed by the canned salmon industry, which feared additional regulation and taxation. In addition the U.S. military was unenthusiastic because of the increased bureaucracy. But territorial leaders conducted an aggressive, national campaign based on the moral right of all American citizens to have all the rights of other citizens, and following a convention in 1955–1956, they presented Congress with a progressive, uncomplicated state constitution. When polls showed Americans overwhelmingly in support of

Alaskan statehood in 1958, Congress passed the enabling act. Statehood became official on 3 January 1959.

The statehood act entitled the new state to select 104 million acres of unoccupied, unreserved land from Alaska's 375 million acres. Federal reserves already claimed 54 million acres. But the act also prohibited the state from selecting any land that might be subject to Native title. The United States had never executed any Native treaties in Alaska, and the question of Native land title had not been settled. When the state began to select its land, Native groups protested the selections. By 1965, despite Native protests, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had transferred 12 million acres to the state, including, fortuitously as it developed, land at Prudhoe Bay on the North (Arctic) Slope. By then, however, Native claims blanketed the entire state. Secretary of the Interior Steward Udall halted all further transfers to the state until Native land claims could be sorted out.

That process had just begun when, in December 1967, Richfield Oil Company discovered North America's largest oil field at Prudhoe Bay. A 789–mile hot oil pipeline would be necessary to transport the oil from the Arctic Coast to Prince William Sound, crossing many miles of land that eventually was titled to Natives. Natives worked with state and industry leaders and the U.S. Congress to craft the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971. By that act Natives obtained title to 44 million acres of traditionally utilized land, and the United States paid $962.5 million in compensation for extinguishments of Native title to Alaska's remaining 331 million acres. In an unprecedented provision, the money was used to capitalize profit-making Native regional and village economic development corporations. All Alaska Natives became stockholders in one or another of the corporations. Natives would thereby earn stock dividends from their corporations in perpetuity.

The act transformed the status of Alaska Natives, making their corporations an immediate major economic factor in Alaska. Despite early difficulties, most corporations were able to pay stock dividends by the 1990s. Natives adapted well to the roles of corporation leaders and stockholders, though lack of economic sustainability threatened the future of many of the remote villages. Of 100,000 Alaska Natives in a state population of 620,000 in 2000, 30,000 were permanent urban residents.

ANCSA did not guarantee construction of the Alaska pipeline, however, because national environmental groups sued to halt the project to preserve Alaska wilderness. When OPEC placed an embargo on oil exports to the United States following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Congress passed the Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act, and construction began.

The state established a comprehensive tax structure for oil production, and by the 1980s oil taxes produced 85 percent of public state revenue. By the 1990s most public sector material infrastructure in the state had been paid for by oil taxation. So dependent was the state on oil money that a contraction of the price per barrel from $40 in 1981 to $15 in 1986 eliminated thousands of jobs and led to the outmigration of 600,000 residents from the state in 1985 and 1986.

In 1976 Alaska voters approved the creation of a publicly owned state investment fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund, made up of 10 percent of all state oil revenue. In 1982 the state legislature mandated that about half of the earnings on the fund be paid per capita annually to all state residents. In 2000 the dividend payment was near $2,000 for each Alaska citizen.

Reflecting the raised environmental consciousness in the United States, ANCSA also included a provision for Congress to establish new federal conservation units in Alaska within eight years. Fearing the loss of opportunities for economic development, state leaders and residents opposed the provision, but Congress proceeded. The battle over the Alaska lands act was bitter and protracted, but in 1980 Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), which reserved 104 additional Alaska acres in new conservation units, half of which were designated wilderness. Natives were guaranteed access to traditional subsistence resources across the new conservation areas. Mount McKinley Park was renamed Denali National Park.

Americans' new embrace of wilderness values generated both horror and anger when the fully loaded oil tanker Exxon Valdez went aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound in March 1989, spilling 10.8 million gallons of oil in an area considered pristine wilderness. Thousands of seabirds and uncounted fish died, along with lesser numbers of seals, sea otters, and other bird and animal species, including killer whales. Native villagers in the sound feared the contamination of subsistence resources. Exxon Corporation spent three summers cleaning up the spill at a cost of $2 billion, and the corporation was fined $1 billion by the state and federal governments.

Alaska mirrors a long-standing debate in the United States over the proper balance between natural resource extraction and resource preservation. The coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is presumed to contain significant oil deposits, which most Alaskans wish to see developed. But the area is considered wilderness by most Americans. The future of the refuge rests with Congress, where at the twentieth century's end vigorous debate continued.


Gibson, James R. Otter Skins, Boston Ships, and China Goods: The Maritime Fur Trade of the Northwest Coast, 1785–1841. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1992.

Haycox, Stephen. Alaska—An American Colony. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002.

———. Frigid Embrace: Politics, Economics and Environment in Alaska. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2002.

———, and Mary Mangusso, eds. An Alaska Anthology: Interpreting the Past. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996.

Kollin, Susan. Nature's State: Imagining Alaska as the Last Frontier. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Mitchell, Donald Craig. Sold American: The Story of Alaska Natives and Their Land, 1867–1959. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1997; Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2000.

Sherwood, Morgan. Exploration of Alaska, 1865–1900. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1965; Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 1992.


See alsoExplorations and Expeditions: Russian ; Fur Trade and Trapping ; Klondike Rush ; Oil Fields ; Petroleum Industry ; Russia, Relations with ; Tribes: Alaskan ; Yukon Region .

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Alaska (əlă´skə), largest in area of the United States but one of the smallest in population, occupying the northwest extremity of the North American continent, separated from the coterminous United States by W Canada. It is bordered by Yukon and British Columbia (E), the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean (S), the Bering Sea, Bering Strait, and Chukchi Sea (W), and the Beaufort Sea and the Arctic Ocean (N).

Facts and Figures

Area, 656,424 sq mi (1,700,135 sq km), including 86,051 sq mi (222,871 sq km) of water surface. Pop. (2010) 710,231, a 13.3% increase since the 2000 census. Capital, Juneau. Largest city, Anchorage. Statehood, Jan. 3, 1959 (49th state). Highest pt., Mt. McKinley, 20,237 ft (6,168 m); lowest pt., sea level. Motto, North to the Future. State bird, willow ptarmigan. State flower, forget-me-not. State tree, Sitka spruce. Abbr., AK

Land and People

Nearly one fifth the size of the rest of the United States, Alaska is, at the tip of the Seward Peninsula in the northwest, only a few miles from the Russian Far East; the two are separated by the narrow Bering Strait. The Seward Peninsula, chiefly tundra covered, is sparsely inhabited. The Bering Strait widens in the north to the Chukchi Sea, which slices into Alaska with Kotzebue Sound; in the south the strait widens to the Bering Sea, which cuts into Alaska with Norton Sound and Bristol Bay.

Toward the south the state again extends toward Russia in the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands, reaching a total of 1,200 mi (1,931 km) toward the Komandorski Islands; together they divide the Bering Sea from the Pacific. The Aleutian Range, which is the spine of the Alaska Peninsula, is continued in the grass-covered, treeless Aleutian Islands; the climate there is unremittingly harsh—foggy, damp, and cold in the winter and subject to violent winds (williwaws). Once traversed by Russian fur traders hunting sea otters, the Aleutians are now chiefly of strategic importance. They contain several active volcanoes.

The southern coast of Alaska is deeply indented by two inlets of the wide Gulf of Alaska, Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound; the Kenai Peninsula between them extends southwest toward Kodiak Island. The narrow Panhandle dips southeast along the coast from the Gulf of Alaska, cutting into British Columbia. It consists of the offshore islands of the Alexander Archipelago and the narrow coast, which rises steeply to the peaks of the Coast Range and the Saint Elias Mts. Winters in the Panhandle are relatively mild, with heavy rainfall and, except on the upper slopes of the mountains, comparatively little snow.

The interior of Alaska, on the other hand, has very cold winters and short, hot summers. In Arctic Alaska, north of the Brooks Range, the temperature in winter reaches -10°F to -40°F (-23.3°C to -40°C). The land there is mostly barren, cut by many short rivers and one long one, the Colville. Alaska's major river is the Yukon, which crosses the state from east to west for 1,200 mi (1,931 km), from the Canadian border to the Bering Sea. The northernmost reach of Alaska is Point Barrow.

Alaska's climate and terrain (rough coast and high mountain ranges) divide it into relatively isolated regions, and transportation relies heavily on costly airlines. The Panhandle is the most populous region; Juneau, the state's capital and third largest city, is there. The Panhandle's connection with Seattle is by ships, which ply the Inside Passage between the coast and the offshore islands. In S central Alaska, Anchorage, the state's largest city, is the center for the Alaskan RR and for airways; it is also connected with the Alaska Highway. On the Seward Peninsula and Norton Sound, Nome, founded when gold was discovered (1898) in the sands of local beaches, is now a small, isolated settlement. Southern ports including Seward, Anchorage, and Valdez are linked by highway with Fairbanks, the state's second largest (and largest interior) city. Cordova and Kodiak depend upon the ocean lanes. On the North Slope, the entire Arctic coast is icebound most of the year, and the ground remains permanently frozen.

The state abounds in natural wonders. In the Panhandle, the scenic beauty of the mountains and the rugged fjord-indented coast are augmented by such attractions as the Malaspina glacier and the acres of blue ice in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. In the Alaska Range of S central Alaska stands the highest point in North America, Mt. McKinley (Denali) in Denali National Park and Preserve. The Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands have numerous volcanoes; Katmai National Park and Preserve contains the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, scene of a volcanic eruption in 1912.

In the mid-1990s slightly over three quarters of the state's population was white and some 15% was Native American (largely Eskimo and Aleut).


Alaska has very little agriculture, ranking last in the nation in number of farms and value of farm products. The state's best arable land is in its S central region, in the Matanuska Valley N of Anchorage and the Tanana Valley (around Fairbanks). The state's most valuable farm commodities are greenhouse and dairy products and potatoes.

Alaska leads the nation in the value of its commercial fishing catch—chiefly salmon, crab, shrimp, halibut, herring, and cod. Anchorage and Dutch Harbor are major fishing ports, and the freezing and canning of fish dominates the food-processing industry, the state's largest manufacturing enterprise. Lumbering and related industries are of great importance, although disputes over logging in the state's great national forests are ongoing. Mining, principally of petroleum and natural gas, is the state's most valuable industry. Gold, which led to settlement at the end of the 19th cent., is no longer mined in quantity. Fur-trapping, Alaska's oldest industry, endures; pelts are obtained from a great variety of animals. The Pribilof Islands are especially noted as a source of sealskins (the seals there are owned by the U.S. government, and their use is carefully regulated).

In 1968 vast reserves of oil and natural gas were discovered on the Alaska North Slope near Prudhoe Bay. The petroleum reservoir was determined to be twice the size of any other field in North America. The 800-mi (1,287-km) Trans-Alaska pipeline from the North Slope to the ice-free port of Valdez opened in 1977, after bitter opposition from environmentalists, and oil began to dominate the state economy. The Alaska Permanent Fund, created in 1977, receives 25% of Alaska's oil royalty income. The fund is designed to provide the state with income after the oil reserves are depleted and has paid dividends to all residents.

Government—federal, state, and local—is Alaska's major source of employment. The state's strategic location has generated considerable defense activity since World War II, including the establishment of highways, airfields, and permanent military bases. Alaska's tourism increased dramatically with the help of improvements in transportation; it now follows only oil among the state's industries. The Inside Passage, Denali National Park, and the 1000-mi (1,600 km) Iditarod sled-dog race are major attractions.

Government, Politics, and Higher Education

Alaska operates under a constitution drawn up and ratified in 1956 (effective with statehood). Its executive branch is headed by a governor and a secretary of state, both elected (on the same ticket) for four-year terms. Alaska's bicameral legislature has a senate with 20 members and a house of representatives with 40 members. The state sends two senators and one representative to the U.S. Congress and has three electoral votes.

Democrats at first dominated state politics, but Republicans have gained gradual ascendance since 1966. A Democrat, Tony Knowles, was elected governor in 1994 and reelected in 1998. The GOP recaptured the governorship in 2002 when Frank Murkowski was elected to the office. In 2006 Republican Sarah Palin was elected governor, defeating Murkowski in the primary and Knowles in the general election. She was the first woman to win the governorship. She resigned in 2009 and was succeeded by Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, also a Republican. He was elected to the office in 2010 but lost in 2014 to independent Bill Walker.

Alaska's educational institutions include the Univ. of Alaska, with divisions at Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau; and Alaska Pacific Univ., at Anchorage.


Russian Colonization

The disastrous voyage of Vitus Bering and Aleksey Chirikov in 1741 began the march of Russian traders across Siberia. The survivors who returned with sea otter skins started a rush of fur hunters to the Aleutian Islands. Grigori Shelekhov in 1784 founded the first permanent settlement in Alaska on Kodiak Island and sent (1790) to Alaska the man who was to dominate the period of Russian influence there, Aleksandr Baranov. A monopoly was granted to the Russian American Company in 1799, and it was Baranov who directed its Alaskan activities. Baranov extended the Russian trade far down the west coast of North America and even, after several unsuccessful attempts, founded (1812) a settlement in N California.

Rivalry for the northwest coast was strong, and British and American trading vessels began to threaten the Russian monopoly. In 1821 the czar issued a ukase (imperial command) claiming the 51st parallel as the southern boundary of Alaska and warning foreign vessels not to trespass beyond it. British and American protests, the promulgation of the Monroe Doctrine, and Russian embroilment elsewhere resulted (1824) in a negotiated settlement of the boundary at lat. 54°40′N (the present southern boundary of Alaska). Russian interests in Alaska gradually declined, and after the Crimean War, Russia sought to dispose of the territory altogether.

Early Years as a U.S. Possession

In 1867, Russia sold Alaska to the United States for $7,200,000. The U.S. purchase was accomplished solely through the determined efforts of Secretary of State William H. Seward, and for many years afterward the land was derisively called Seward's Folly or Seward's Icebox because of its supposed uselessness. Since Alaska appeared to offer no immediate financial return, it was neglected. The U.S. army officially controlled the area until 1876, when scandals caused the withdrawal of the troops. After a brief period, during which government was in the hands of customs officials, the U.S. navy was given charge (1879). Most of the territory was not even known, although the British (notably John Franklin and Capt. F. W. Beechey) had explored the coast of the Arctic Ocean, and the Hudson's Bay Company had explored the Yukon.

It was not until after the discovery of gold in the Juneau region in 1880 that Alaska was given a governor and a feeble local administration (under the Organic Act of 1884). Missionaries, who had come to the region in the late 1870s, exercised considerable influence. Most influential was Sheldon Jackson, best known for his introduction of reindeer to help the Alaska Eskimo (Inuit), impoverished by the wanton destruction of the fur seals. Sealing was the subject of a long international controversy (see Bering Sea Fur-Seal Controversy under Bering Sea), which was not ended until after gold had permanently transformed Alaska.

The Gold Rush

Paradoxically, the first gold finds that tremendously influenced Alaska were in Canada. The Klondike strike of 1896 brought a stampede, mainly of Americans, and most of them came through Alaska. The big discoveries in Alaska itself followed—Nome in 1898–99, Fairbanks in 1902. The miners and prospectors (the sourdoughs) took over Alaska, and the era of the mining camps reached its height; a criminal code was belatedly applied in 1899.

The longstanding controversy concerning the boundary between the Alaska Panhandle and British Columbia was aggravated by the large number of miners traveling the Inside Passage to the gold fields. The matter was finally settled in 1903 by a six-man tribunal, composed of American, Canadian, and British representatives. The decision was generally favorable to the United States, and a period of rapid building and development began. Mining, requiring heavy financing, passed into the hands of Eastern capitalists, notably the monopolistic Alaska Syndicate. Opposition to these "interests" became the burning issue in Alaska and was catapulted into national politics; Gifford Pinchot and R. A. Ballinger were the chief antagonists, and this was a major issue on which Theodore Roosevelt split with President William Howard Taft.

Territorial Status

Juneau officially replaced Sitka as capital in 1900, but it did not begin to function as such until 1906. In the same year Alaska was finally awarded a territorial representative in Congress. A new era began for Alaska when local government was established in 1912 and it became a U.S. territory. The building of the Alaska RR from Seward to Fairbanks was commenced with government funds in 1915. Already, however, gold mining was dying out, and Alaska receded into one of its quiet periods. The fishing industry, which had gradually advanced during the gold era, became the major enterprise.

Alaska enjoyed an economic boom during World War II. The Alaska Highway was built, supplying a weak but much-needed link with the United States. After Japanese troops occupied the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska, U.S. forces prepared for a counterattack. Attu was retaken in May, 1943, after intense fighting, and the Japanese evacuated Kiska in August after intensive U.S. bombardments. Dutch Harbor became a major key in the U.S. defense system. The growth of air travel after the war, and the permanent military bases established in Alaska resulted in tremendous growth; between 1950 and 1960 the population nearly doubled.

Statehood to the Present

In 1958, Alaskans approved statehood by a 5 to 1 vote, and on Jan. 3, 1959, Alaska was officially admitted into the Union as a state, the first since Arizona in 1912. On Mar. 27, 1964, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in North America occurred in Alaska, taking approximately 114 lives and causing extensive property damage. Some cities were almost totally destroyed, and the fishing industry was especially hard hit, with the loss of fleets, docks, and canneries from the resulting tsunami. Reconstruction, with large-scale federal aid, was rapid. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (1971) gave roughly 44 million acres (17.8 million hectares; 10% of the state) and almost $1 billion to Alaskan native peoples in exchange for renunciation of all aboriginal claims to land in the state. In 1989 the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, releasing 11 million gallons of oil into the water in the worst oil spill in U.S. history up to that time and severely damaging the ecosystem. A jury in 1994 found Exxon Corp. (now ExxonMobil) and the ship's captain negligent, but the amount of punitive damages ($507.5 million) to be paid to some 33,000 commercial fishermen and other plaintiffs was ultimately fixed by a Supreme Court decision in 2008, which severely reduced the original award ($2.5 billion).


See C. C. Hulley, Alaska, Past and Present (3d ed. 1970); B. Keating, Alaska (2d ed. 1971); H. W. Clark, History of Alaska (1930, repr. 1972); B. Cooper, Alaska, the Last Frontier (1973); Federal Writers' Project, A Guide to Alaska, Last American Frontier (1940, repr. 1973); L. Thomas Jr., Alaska and the Yukon (1983); R. W. Pearson and D. F. Lynch, Alaska: A Geography; J. Strohmeyer, Extreme Conditions: Big Oil and the Transformation of Alaska (1993).

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At first, dismissed as a foolish venture, the purchase of Alaska from Russia in the 1870s was little more than a curiosity to most people in the United States. The idea that an ice-ridden territory so far from mainland United States could have any future value to the nation was not widely accepted. But the discovery of gold on the territory, and later oil, put a new light on the possibilities of Alaska. Those willing to brave the Alaska frontier in search of valuable resources eventually established permanent settlements, which formed the basis of what became the 49th state.

Ages after the ancestors of America's aboriginal people crossed a land bridge which then connected northern Siberia with Alaska, Russian explorers came to the area in the 1700s. The first permanent Russian settlement was on Kodiak Island; by the early 1800s, the Russian American Company was given control over the region, with headquarters at Sitka. The Russians had great difficulty with Indian uprisings, the depletion of the sea otter, and changes in the fur trade. Viewing the Alaskan colonies as a drain on their resources, the Russians agreed to sell them to the United States for $7.2 million in 1867. Some U.S. citizens were not at all impressed with Secretary of State William H. Seward's (18011872) success in acquiring Alaska, calling it "Seward's folly" or "Seward's icebox." The territory was at first administered by the U.S. Army and then by the U.S. Customs Service.

The economic potential of "Seward's icebox" was first apparent when gold was discovered at Juneau in 1880. After prospectors moved into the eastern interior, they also discovered gold on Forty-Mile River and at Circle. The most important gold strike, however, was in the Klondike region of Canada in 1896; soon a stampede of prospectors was crossing Alaska's Yukon and other regions. They established some of the first permanent towns in the interior.

Still a wild country with few transportation networks, Alaska nonetheless began to develop its considerable fishing and timber resources. These industries benefited when the Alaska Railroad, started in 1914, connected Anchorage and Fairbanks with Seward, a newly created ice-free port. As more and more people moved into Alaska Congress voted to grant it territorial status in 1912.

Gold continued to be mined in the territory though at a slower pace. The population began to decline in the second decade of the century and the territory saw a general state of depression throughout the 1920s. World War II (19391945) showed the nation that Alaska, with its proximity to Japan and the Soviet Union, was important strategically. Federal construction and military installations were increased in the territory even after the war.

Development in Alaska was accelerated considerably when the U.S. government built the Alaska Highway, an extension of the Alaska Railroad, and other facilities such as docks and airfields. These wartime and postwar improvements brought many more military personnel and civilians into Alaska. Wanting the same rights as other U.S. citizens, the newcomers pressured Congress to make Alaska a state. In 1959 they succeeded, when Alaska became the 49th state, the first one not contiguous to the lower 48 states.

The use and allocation of lands in Alaska have always been sources of controversy. The 1971 Native Claims Settlement Act provided extensive land grants to aboriginal residents of the state but did not end the controversy over land use and ownership. The discovery of oil in 1968 and in 1974 caused another economic boom in the state but also aroused the anger of environmentalists who feared damage to the state's delicate ecosystem from a proposed Alaska oil pipeline. In 1970 after an oil crisis brought on by Middle East suppliers panicked the U.S. public, much of the opposition melted; the Trans-Alaska Pipeline was built, taking oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez and establishing Alaska as one of the leading energy sources for the United States.

The boom created by oil enabled the state to decrease its dependence on the federal government, increase services to its citizens, and abolish the state income tax. Other private industries did not develop as fast as the state had hoped, however. Moreover, since 82 percent of the state's revenue came from oil, Alaska was highly susceptible to the vicissitudes of the oil market. This became evident in the mid-1980s, when Middle East oil overproduction drove Alaska oil prices down from $36.00 to $13.50 a barrel. Alaska lost 20,000 jobs in the four years after 1985, and the state government lost two-thirds of its revenue. At the same time oil reserves in the state were being rapidly depleted.

Further damage to Alaska's oil industry occurred on March 24, 1989, when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, contaminating 1,285 miles of shoreline, including the sound and its wildlife refuge, the Gulf of Alaska, and the Alaska Peninsula. After a long series of suits by the federal and state governments, Alaska received a $1.025 billion settlement from Exxon. Exxon claims that the Prince William Sound sustained no permanent damage; Alaska's citizens, who maintain there is still visible evidence of oil contamination, are less convinced even after years of cleanup efforts.

A modest economic recovery occurred in the early 1990s, with significant growth in the fishing industry. An important segment of Alaska's economy, the seafood industry accounted for wholesale values of three billion dollars in 1990. Oil and gas production, however, continued to decline, reducing mining jobs by 11 percent in 1992; and by 1997 the decreasing supply of timber caused log exports to decline by 50 percent. During the 1990s Alaska was also engaged in a battle with the federal government over the rights to revenues from mineral leasing on federal land. Despite economic setbacks Alaska still ranked nineteenth among all states in 1996 in per capita personal income. This distinction was offset, however, by a cost of living 25-35 percent higher than the average for the other states.

As oil production declined in Prudhoe Bay in the early 1990s the state government again was forced to cut back state services. The governor of Alaska, Toby Knowles, pressured Congress to open a new area in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration. Again, environmentalists loudly disputed the wisdom of such a move, despite the favorable attitude of the Republican Congress. President Bill Clinton (1993) said he would veto any such legislation. In 1998 another controversy erupted in Congress over a proposed road over a marshy wilderness from King Cove to an airstrip on Cold Bay. Proponents called it a boon to development; opponents called it a threat to the environment.

Alaska remained highly dependent on its limited network of transportation links at the end of the twentieth century. Though the Alaska Railroad with 480 miles of track was not connected to any other North American line, it was accessible to other rail routes by rail-barge service. Crude oil and other freight from Alaska was shipped mostly from Valdez, Kenai/Nikishka, and Anchorage. The Alaska Marine Highway System provided ferry service to 32 communities in southeast and southwest Alaska. Most of the consumer goods used by Alaskans were shipped from the port of Seattle; though freight costs were still high, they were smaller than by overland routes. The Alaska Highway was the only major road link with the rest of the United States. Other roads within the state were sparse and often unimproved. Many small airports across Alaska accommodated travelers seeking other ways of traversing the state.

See also: Alaska Pipeline, Alaska Purchase, Environmentalism, Exxon Corporation


Gruening, Ernest. State of Alaska. New York: Random House, 1968.

Hedin, Robert, and Gary Holthaus, eds. The Great Land: Reflections on Alaska. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1994.

Hunt, William R. Alaska: A Bicentennial History. New York: Norton, 1976.

Naske, Claus M., and Herman E. Slotnick. Alaska: A History of the 49th State, 2nd ed. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma, 1987.

Ryan, Alan, ed. The Reader's Companion to Alaska. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace, 1997.

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Alaska is the largest state in the United States, equal to one-fifth of the country's continental land mass. Situated in the extreme northwestern region of North America, it is separated from Russian Asia by the Bering Strait (51 miles; 82 kilometers). Commonly nicknamed "The Last Frontier" or "Land of the Midnight Sun," the state's official name derives from an Aleut word meaning "great land" or "that which the sea breaks against." Alaska is replete with high-walled fjords and majestic mountains, with slow-moving glaciers and still-active volcanoes. The state is also home to Eskimos and the Aleut and Athabaskan Indians, as well as about fourteen thousand Tlingit, Tshimshian, and Haida

peoplecomprising about 16 percent of the Alaskan population. (The term Eskimo is used for Alaskan natives, while Inuit is used for Eskimos living in Canada.) Inupiat and Yupik are the two main Eskimo groups. While the Inupiat speak Inupiaq and reside in the north and northwest parts of Alaska, the Yupik speak Yupik and live in the south and southwest. Juneau is the state's capital, but Anchorage is the largest city.

The first Russians to come to the Alaskan mainland and the Aleutian Islands were Alexei Chirikov (a Russian naval captain) and Vitus Bering (a Dane working for the Russians), who arrived in 1741. Tsar Peter the Great (16721725) encouraged the explorers, eager to gain the fur trade of Alaska and the markets of China. Hence, for half a century thereafter, intrepid frontiersmen and fur traders (promyshlenniki ) ranged from the Kurile Islands to southeastern Alaska, often exploiting native seafaring skills to mine the rich supply of sea otter and seal pelts for the lucrative China trade. In 1784, one of these brave adventurers, Grigory Shelekhov (17471795), established the first colony in Alaska, encouraged by Tsarina Catherine II (the Great) (17291796).

Missionaries soon followed the traders, beginning in 1794, aiming to convert souls to Christianity. The beneficial role of the Russian missions in Alaska is only beginning to be fully appreciated. Undoubtedly, some Russian imperialists used the missionary enterprise as an instrument in their own endeavors. However, as recently discovered documents in the U.S. Library of Congress show, the selfless work of some Russian Orthodox priests, such as Metropolitan Innokenty Veniaminov (17971879), not only promoted harmonious relations between Russians and Alaskans, but preserved the culture and languages of the Native Alaskans.

Diplomatic relations between Russia and the United States, which began in 1808, were relatively cordial in the early 1800s. They were unhampered by the Monroe Doctrine, which warned that the American continent was no territory for future European colonization. Tsar Alexander I admired the American republic, and agreed in April 1824 to restrict Russia's claims on the America continent to Alaska. American statesmen had attempted several times between 1834 and 1867 to purchase Alaska from Russia. On March 23, 1867, the expansionist-minded Secretary of State William H. Seward met with Russian minister to Washington Baron Edouard de Stoeckl and agreed on a price of $7,200,000. This translated into about 2.5 cents per acre for 586,400 square miles of territory, twice the size of Texas. Overextended geographically, the Russians were happy at the time to release the burden. However, the discovery of gold in 1896 and of the largest oil field in North America (near Prudhoe Bay) in 1968 may have caused second thoughts.

See also: bering, vitus jonassen; dezhnev, semen ivanovich; northern peoples; united states, relations with


Bolkhovitinov, N. N., and Pierce, Richard A. (1996). Russian-American Relations and the Sale of Alaska, 18341867. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press.

Hoxie, Frederick E., and Mancall, Peter C. (2001). American Nations: Encounters in Indian Country, 1850 to the Present. New York: Routledge.

Thomas, David Hurst. (200). Exploring Native North America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Johanna Granville

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Anchorage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5

Fairbanks . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19

Juneau . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31

The State in Brief

Nickname: Land of the Midnight Sun

Motto: North to the future

Flower: Forget-me-not

Bird: Willow ptarmigan

Area: 663,267 square miles (2000; U.S. rank: 1st)

Elevation: Ranges from sea level to 20,320 feet above sea level

Climate: Summers are short and hot, winters long and intensely cold

Admitted to Union: January 3, 1959

Capital: Juneau

Head Official: Governor Frank H. Murkowski (R) (until 2006)


1980: 402,000

1990: 570,000

2000: 626,932

2004 estimate: 655,435

Percent change, 19902000: 14.0%

U.S. rank in 2004: 47th

Percent of residents born in state: 38.1% (2000)

Density: 1.1 people per square mile (2000)

2002 FBI Crime Index Total: 27,745

Racial and Ethnic Characteristics (2000)

White: 434,534

Black or African American: 21,787

American Indian and Alaska Native: 98,043

Asian: 25,116

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander: 3,309

Hispanic or Latino (may be of any race): 25,852

Other: 9,997

Age Characteristics (2000)

Population under 5 years old: 47,591

Population 5 to 19 years old: 160,526

Percent of population 65 years and over: 5.7%

Median age: 32.4 years (2000)

Vital Statistics

Total number of births (2003): 10,071

Total number of deaths (2003): 3,158 (infant deaths, 67)

AIDS cases reported through 2003: 271


Major industries: Oil, government, commercial fishing, food processing, lumber, mining

Unemployment rate: 7.4% (January 2004)

Per capita income: $33,254 (2003; U.S. rank: 14th)

Median household income: $55,143 (3-year average, 2001-2003)

Percentage of persons below poverty level: 9.0% (3-year average, 2001-2003)

Income tax rate: None

Sales tax rate: None

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Alaska State in nw North America, separated from the rest of continental USA by the province of British Columbia, Canada, and from Russia by the Bering Strait. The capital is Juneau. The largest city is Anchorage on the s coast. The USA purchased Alaska for US$7.2 million from Russia (1867). Fishing drew settlers and, after the gold rush of the 1890s, the population doubled within a decade. It became the 49th state of the Union in 1959. About 25% lies inside the Arctic Circle. The main Alaska Range includes Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America. The chief river is the Yukon. The Alaskan economy is based on fish, natural gas, timber, quartz and, primarily, oil. The national parks encourage tourism. Because of its strategic position and oil reserves, Alaska developed as a military area and is linked to the rest of the USA by the 2450km (1500mi) Alaska Highway. Although by far the largest US state, it has the third smallest population (after Wyoming and Vermont). Of the total state population (2000), 98,043 are Native Americans (mainly Inuit-Aleut). Area: 1,530,700sq km (591,004sq mi). Pop. (2000) 626,932.

Statehood :

January 3, 1959

Nickname :

The Last Frontier

State bird :

Willow ptarmigan

State flower :


State tree :

Sitka spruce

State motto :

North to the future

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Alaskaalpaca, attacker, backer, clacker, claqueur, cracker, Dhaka, hacker, Hakka, knacker, lacquer, maraca, paca, packer, sifaka, slacker, smacker, stacker, tacker, tracker, whacker, yakka •Kafka •anchor, banker, Bianca, canker, Casablanca, Costa Blanca, flanker, franker, hanker, lingua franca, Lubyanka, rancour (US rancor), ranker, Salamanca, spanker, Sri Lanka, tanka, tanker, up-anchor, wanker •Alaska, lascar, Madagascar, Nebraska •Kamchatka • linebacker • outbacker •hijacker, skyjacker •Schumacher • backpacker •safecracker • wisecracker •nutcracker • firecracker • ransacker •scrimshanker • bushwhacker •barker, haka, Kabaka, Lusaka, marker, moussaka, nosy parker, Oaxaca, Osaka, parka, Shaka, Zarqa •asker, masker •backmarker • waymarker •Becker, checker, Cheka, chequer, Dekker, exchequer, Flecker, mecca, Neckar, Necker, pecker, Quebecker, Rebecca, Rijeka, trekker, weka, wrecker •sepulchre (US sepulcher) • Cuenca •burlesquer, Francesca, Wesker •woodpecker

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