A Quick History
Alaska is rich with Native, Russian, gold rush and natural
history. It is believed the first inhabitants of Alaska crossed a
land bridge from Siberia nearly 20,000 years ago. Danish
explorer Vitus Bering first encountered Alaska in 1741 on a
voyage from Siberia.
Russian whalers and fur traders established the first white settlement in Alaska in 1784 on Kodiak Island and later in Sitka.
Much of the Russian influence still remains in Southwest and Southeast communities today. In 1867, U.S. Secretary of State William
H. Seward offered Russia $7,200,000, or two cents per acre, for Alaska. Many Americans called the purchase "Seward’s Folly" and
considered it a waste of money. But it wasn’t long before gold was discovered, triggering several prospector stampedes north.
After the gold rush and during the depression era, most of America was
preoccupied and thought very little of the vast Alaska territory. But during
World War II, Alaska again became a valuable asset as a strategic staging area in the
North Pacific. On June 3, 1942 the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor and proceeded to
occupy the islands of Attu and Kiska. The yearlong war on American soil was just as much
a war against the harsh weather as it was against the enemy. During this time the U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers built the Alaska Highway in only eight months to supply a land
route for military equipment and supplies.
Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959, creating the largest state in the union
(more than twice the size of Texas). The nation again recognized the assets in this young
state when oil was discovered and confirmed in 1968 at Prudhoe Bay, North America’s
largest oil field. Today, Alaska is treasured for it’s breathtaking beauty and vast supply of
The Russians were interested in the flourishing fur markets during their ownership of Alaska, and
were typically not well liked by the Natives. Battles between indigenous peoples and Russians
were disastrous for Alaska Natives, as were the foreign diseases that white explorers brought to
Although Alaska was purchased from Russia in 1867, the Russian influence is still seen today in
the communities of Sitka, Kodiak, Unalaska and Kenai, where onion-domed Russian Orthodox
churches still remain.
Russian-Orthodox church in Kodiak