Alaska is the biggest state in the US so it should be easy to spot on a US map, right? Well, maybe. The US has 50 states. The majority of states, 48 of them, are adjoining and are part of what’s called the “Lower 48”. But there are two states that are the exception, Alaska is one of them.
So where is it?
Here are several hints:
- Alaska gets really cold in the winter. Northern states are always colder than southern states.
- The eastern part of the state is connected to a country called Canada. Alaska and Canada share a 1,538-mile border.
- Alaska is even closer to another country called Russia. They’re only 55 miles apart, separated by a body of water known as the Bering Strait.
Can you find Alaska now?
What really happened
Besides its stunning beauty, the 49th state has an interesting past:
- From the late 1700s until 1867, Russia controlled most of the area that’s now known as Alaska. Can you find this country on a world map? Hint: It’s in Eastern Europe.
- In 1867, the United States purchased the territory from Russia for $7.2 million in gold, or roughly two cents an acre. Considering how rich Alaska is in natural resources like coal, oil, lumber, and natural gas, how much do you think it would cost today?
- In 1896, people discovered gold here. Between 1897 and 1900, approximately 100,000 people traveled to Alaska to search for gold in hopes of getting rich. It was called the Klondike Gold Rush. That’s more than the amount of people who now live in San Francisco. Do you know what state San Francisco is in?
- Another country, Canada, borders the state on its east side. In the 1800s, before anyone could cross the Canadian border into Alaska to search for gold, the Canadian government required each prospector to have a year’s worth of gold mining equipment and supplies. This included 1,000 pounds of food and mosquito netting.
- Toward the end of the gold rush, only several thousand gold hunters actually found gold. The majority left empty-handed. Still, some stayed behind while many others came to work and live here.
- In 1900, the capital of Alaska was moved from Sitka to Juneau.
- In the 1920s, roughly a century ago, about 55,000 people lived in the state and started businesses like pulp mills. Others began drilling for oil. The territory started to thrive. Voters adopted the Alaskan constitution. The state’s first TV broadcast took place in Anchorage, which is now the biggest city in the state.
- In 1942, during World War II and six months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor (located in Hawaii), Japan invaded two islands called Attu and Kiska. These islands are part of the Aleutian Islands, a chain of 14 large volcanic islands and 45 smaller islands. Even though Attu and Kiska belonged to Alaska, Japan set up military bases on them. Americans were shocked that Japanese troops had taken over any US land, especially these remote and barren islands. It took the American military one year to regain control of these two islands.
- In February 1945, Elizabeth Peratrovich, a civil rights leader for Alaska Natives, addressed the Alaska Territorial Senate. Her speech was credited for helping pass the Anti-Discrimination Bill of 1945, which made it illegal to discriminate against people based on their race.
- In March 1989, one of history’s worst environmental disasters happened here. The Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker or ship designed to transport oil, ran into a reef in Prince William Sound and spilled eleven million gallons of crude oil along 1,500 miles of coastline. It killed thousands of seabirds, otters, seals, bald eagles and whales.
Stuff you should know
The state is also famous for its dog sled race called the Iditarod. Its formal name is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, which is an annual long-distance sled dog race that happens every March. But what inspired the race is just as impressive as the race itself. It actually commemorates the part that sled dogs played in the settlement of Alaska.
Back in 1925, children who lived in a city called Nome were infected with a disease called diphtheria. Many died. The nearest batch of medicine was in another city called Nenana, which was approximately 700 miles away. Since sled dogs routinely delivered the mail, the territory’s governor recruited the best drivers and dog teams to transport the life-saving medicine from Nenana to Nome in blizzard conditions. The memory of that medicine run lives on in this race.
Funny, crazy or just plain weird
The state also has some funny laws:
- You can’t wake a sleeping bear to take a selfie.
- No drunken moose are allowed in town.
- Children should not build snowmen taller than themselves.
Tell me more
- This state is also famous for a spectacular light show called the Northern Lights (or aurora borealis). It occurs when tiny particles stream out from the sun and hit Earth’s atmosphere. Read more about it.
- Alaska has approximately three million lakes, more than 12,000 rivers, an estimated 100,000 glaciers, and more volcanoes than any other state. The rivers were used to transport food and other supplies to people who lived along the riverbanks. About 50 of the state’s 130 volcanoes have been active since around 1760.
- In 1959, Alaska became a state. None of the estimated 224,000 people seemed to mind that the temperature often dipped below zero during winter; that on the shortest day of the year known as the Winter Solstice, there are less than nine hours of daylight, or that the sun typically sets around 11pm in July. This is the only state in the country where this happens.
- Just five years later in 1964, Alaska set another record. An earthquake rattled and shook the Prince William Sound region of the state. Nicknamed the Good Friday Earthquake, its magnitude measured 9.2, the largest earthquake ever recorded in US history. More than 100 people died. Several years later, thousands of people were forced out of their homes due to a gigantic flood in a city called Fairbanks.
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