Alaska's modern history is very short; it was not discovered by the developed world until halfway through the 18th century. However, the indigenous peoples of Alaska have been here for quite some time!
10,000 - 40,000 Years Ago
The first peoples came to Alaska during the last Ice Age, most likely following herd animals across the 1,000 mile wide Bering Land Bridge, exposed by lowered sea levels. Most tribes continued south, populating the rest of North America and ultimately South America, but some peoples remained behind, becoming the Native Alaskan Aborigines.
The last ice age ended about this time flooding the land bridge between Alaska and Siberia.
Note: This embedded video resides on the official Alaska National Park Service YouTube channel
Bering Land Bridge
Vitus Bering, a Danish explorer, discovered the Bering Strait between Asia and North America.
A Russian expedition led by Vitus Bering, along with George Steller, made the first "discovery" of Alaska, landing on or near what today is Kayak Island. Bering explored the western coast of Alaska until he was shipwrecked and died on Commodorsky Island, later named Bering Island.
Click on the image above to learn more...
Captain James Cook, British Navigator and Explorer, set sail on his 3rd voyage, leading the expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage, a trading route across the top of North America.
Captain Cook sailed up the northwest coast anchoring off the coast of Alaska, identifying what is now Cook Inlet. Common sailor, John Ledyard established first Russian contact after traveling inland with a party of Native Alaskans. Cook continued to sail up the coast through the Bering Strait, and entered into the Arctic Ocean, but was forced to turn back due to ice blocking the way.
Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island
A Japanese whaling ship ran aground near the western end of the Aleutian Islands. Rats from the ship reached the nearest island giving it the name Rat Island.
The first Russian Settlement in Alaska was established on Kodiak Island at Three Saints Bay
For more information about the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge visit http://kodiak.fws.gov
The Eclipse, a Yankee fur trading vessel, sank in the Shumagin Islands, south of the Alaska Peninsula. It is the oldest known American shipwreck in Alaska and was missing until 2007.
The United States purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million dollars in gold, two cents an acre. At the time of the purchase, the United States referred to it as "Seward's Folly".
Gold was discovered near Sitka.
George Halt became the first to cross Chilkoot Pass in search for Gold.
Gold was discovered in Juneau, sparking the Juneau Gold Rush.
Alaska became the District of Alaska. U.S. Congress did not provide for an Alaskan government until this year.
More than 60,000 arrived in Alaska in search of Gold.
Special legislation extends the provisions of the Homestead Act of 1862 to the territory of Alaska allowing adventurous pioneers in the state to stake a claim for 160 acres of public land for development as a homestead.
The Klondike Gold Rush occurred. Over 100,000 prospectors would attempt to travel north to seek their fortunes in the Klondike.
Alaska was renamed a territory after the Second Organic Act of 1912.
A diptheria epidemic cripples Nome, Alaska. Conditions prohibit the life-saving serum from being shipped by plane, so 20 dog-sled teams race the medicine 674 miles (1,085 km) from Nenana to Nome in just over 5 days in record cold and hurricane-force winds. Dogs like Balto and Togo are commemorated for their heroic races, and to this day this "race of mercy" is hailed as the last hurrah for sled dog teams in the working world.
To learn more about the Iditarod National Historic Trail and the Iditarod sled dog race, click here.
American troops in the Aleutian Islands
Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base was established.
Japan invades the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska. This prompts the construction of of the Alaska-Canada Highway to transport troops to Alaska, and the united states introduces a huge military presence to the state.
Almost one hundred years after the purchase of Alaska, it finally becomes the 49th state. The lobbying of the Alaska Statehood Committee and the passionate arguments from Alaskans result in President Eisenhower's signing of the official declaration to make Alaska a state on January 3, 1959. To see a ceremonial pinning of the 49th star on the United States flag, please visit: http://alaskacenters.gov/alaska-50-celebration.cfm
Valdez is completely destroyed, Seward is almost entirely wiped out and Anchorage is heavily damaged. Damage is felt as far south as California. 130 people are killed, mostly due to underwater waves and tsunamis that resulted.
Oil is discovered at Prudhoe bay, and not long after that, plans begin to build a pipeline to the North Slope in order to recover it.
The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) is passed, giving Alaska Natives significant amounts of land and capital, as well as establishing the Native Corporations.
1974 - 1977
Construction begins on the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline in 1974 and completed in 1977.
The Exxon Valdez runs into a reef in the Prince William Sound, spilling 11 million gallons of Alaska crude oil along 1,500 miles of coastline. A massive cleanup begins, drawing upon thousands of government-employed helpers and volunteers alike. The clean-up effort lasted more than 3 years.
Mt Redoubt Volcano Eruption
Mount Spurr Volcano erupted three times: "It is the easternmost historically active volcano in the Aleutian arc and is the highest of several snow- and ice-covered peaks that appear to define a large, dissected stratovolcano."
BP had a 267,000 gallon oil spill at Prudhoe Bay
Mount Redoubt Volcano erupted five times: "Redoubt Volcano is a steep-sided cone about 10 km in diameter at its base and with a volume of 30-35 cubic kilometers. The volcano is composed of intercalated pyroclastic deposits and lava flows and rests on Mesozoic granitic rocks of the Alaska-Aleutian Range batholith."
Did You Know? Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve lies entirely north of the Arctic Circle and includes the scenic headland of the Brooks Range, the northernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains. Park & Preserve combined are four times the size of Yellowstone National Park. It is the ultimate wilderness.