Alaska's modern history is very short; it was not discovered by the developed world until halfway through the 18th century. However, the Indigenous people of Alaska have been here for quite some time.
Alaska History Timeline
10,000 - 40,000 Before Present
The first people came to Alaska about 15,000 years ago following herd animals across the Bering Land Bridge. The Amerind migration group continued south to populate all of the Americas.
The second migration across the Bering Land Bridge brought the Na-Dene and Eskimo-Aleut. They arrived in Alaska about 12,000 BP and moved through the north to populate Alaska and Canada.
The most recent ice age ended and sea levels rose to cover the Bering Land Bridge, isolating the American populations.
Jeff Rasic, NPS
Flint tool from an archaeological dig in one of Alaska's arctic National Parks
4,000-3,500 Before Present
New data from the fossil record revealed that the first permanent settlements in the high arctic areas appeared 4,000-3,500 years ago. These people were characterized by their flaked stone tools. Studies suggest that they originated in Siberia, staged in Alaska for a brief time, then expanded across Arctic Canada and into Greenland.
Obsidian artifacts dating from 4,000-1,000 years before present have provided concrete evidence of transcontinental interaction between Siberia and Alaska.
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 are 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.
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 landslides 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? Mount Saint Elias in Wrangell-St Elias National Park & Preserve is located only 10 miles from the head of Icy Bay and stands at 18,008 feet. Due to the proximity to ocean waters, it has the highest coastal vertical relief of any mountain in the world.