Alaska is one of two states (the other is Hawaii) not connected to the remaining 48 states of the United States of America. It is located in the northwest of the North American continent and borders Canada (to the east), as well as the Arctic Ocean and Pacific Ocean. It is separated from Russia via the Bering Strait. Alaska is the largest state in the United States in terms of area, but one of the least populated. This means that is has the lowest population density in the country. The history of Alaska is quite complicated and many claims to the region have existed. Let’s take a brief look at the history of this area and its path to becoming a state.
Alaska has been inhabited by native people for thousands of years and it is estimated that people moved to the region around 16,000 to 10,000 B.C. European interest in the area dates to the 18th century when an early Russian settlement was established. The Spanish believed that they already had a claim to the region and Spanish expeditions to enforce these claims began in 1775. The British were also interested in the region and established a few trading outposts. Russia eventually gained a monopoly on the fur trade in the region and in 1799 the Russian-American Company was formed. This company was expected to establish settlements and colonize the region. This is often seen as the official beginning of the region commonly called Russian-America.
The Hudson Bay Company (a British company) began establishing posts on the southern edge of Russian America in the 1930’s and were considered a threat. The United States were also becoming a stronger force around the same time. By the 1860’s the fur trade had slowed down considerably and threats from the British and Americans were causing further tension. Russia was concerned that they would lose the region to Britain without compensation so the Russians offered to sell the territory to the United States. The sale was completed in 1867 at a cost of $7.2 million (about $120 million today).
Path to statehood
As a part of the United States, Alaska officially became The Department of Alaska from 1867 to 1884 and was controlled by various institutions during this time. In 1884 the region was organized and became the District of Alaska. The area was reorganized in 1912 as the Alaska Territory and the people began to push for statehood. However, it was thought that the population was too low and isolated, and the economy too unstable to be included in the United States. The discovery of oil in the region made this concern invalid and on July 7, 1958 the President signed the Alaska Statehood Act into law. Alaska officially became the 49th state of the United States on January 3, 1959.