Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1956. Called Seward's Folly at the time of its purchase, most people did not understand the vast opportunity that came with the purchase.The purchase of Alaska from Russia was finalized on July 14, 1868. William Seward was the Secretary of State under President Andrew Johnson who was primarily responsible for acquiring Alaska. Many called it Seward's folly because some thought it was a waste of money and others just didn't like Andrew Johnson or anything his government did. Russia needed the money and some thought Alaska would be a good investment, which it turned out to be as oil was discovered there, but what most people remember about Alaska's natural riches is its gold.
It wasn't until the Klondike gold strike in 1896 that people started to see Alaska as a valuable addition to the union. The 1890s were a bad time for the American people. There was an economic depression that had caused many bank and business failures and millions of people were unemployed. When gold was discovered in the unsettled regions of Alaska, many people viewed it as a prime opportunity to make a fortune. Between 1890-1900, more than 30,000 people made the trek to Alaska to find their fortune. As had happened in during the California Gold Rush, many never saw gold and the real winners were those who provided support services such as shopkeepers and hotels among others.
Alaska was hit by the Great Depression in the 1920s and 1930s just as hard as the rest of the United States. Roosevelt's New Deal projects even made it all the way to Alaska. One of the projects involved transplanting farmers from Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, since these states supposedly had a similar climate, to the Matanuska-Susitna region in Alaska so they could make a fresh start.Alaska was still considered by most to be a backwater until the bombing of Pearl Harbor and when the Japanese took control of a couple of a couple of islands in the Aleutians, it was decided that military installations needed to be built in Alaska due to its proximity to Japan.
During this time the Alaska Highway was built, which is 1,500 miles long and starts in British Columbia and ends in Fairbanks, Alaska. The highway was completed in 1943 and amazingly, the construction took a mere 8 months and 12 days.After much maneuvering and deal-making in Congress, the proposal to create a 49th state was finally passed and President Eisenhower signed the official declaration on January 3, 1959.
For the time being, the American flag now had 7 rows of 7 stars to represent the 49 states.Through the years, environmentalists and residents have fought continuous battles over oil pipelines, forests and national parks. Arguments for and against any of these topics can be found all over the internet, all of them impassioned and having merit.Overall Alaska is still a wilderness with a wild beauty all its own. During parts of the year it can be a popular tourist destination, both by land and by sea. There are cruises that travel along the coast of Alaska.
Despite its many critics in the beginning, Alaska has turned out to be a valuable and integral part of the United States..Michael Russell Your Independent guide to Alaska.
By: Michael Russell