Alaska is the 49th state of America and because of its location, it is considered the northernmost, easternmost, and westernmost state. Alaska was a Russian territory until 1867 when the United States of America acquired it. The U.S. added a total of 1,518,800 square kilometers of the area to its territorial boundaries for $7.2 million. That translates to $118 million in modern-day dollars. Ever since then, Alaska has seen homesteading, gold rushes, and oil surges. Below are ten lesser-known facts about Alaska.
1. Russia sold Alaska to the U.S. for $7.2 million, which, when adjusted for inflation, is $118 million in today’s money.
Hard times call for desperate measures, and this was the case for Russia in the 19th century. The Asian-European country had been devastated by the Crimean War that took place between October 1853, and March 1856. Being drained economically and the fear of uncertainty made Tsar Alexander II put Alaska up for sale. Some of the reasons for the sale were that Alaska was a useless, hard to defend and inhabitable land.
Russia couldn’t send supplies to Alaska during the Crimean War as Britain and France stood between the two regions. Also, the California gold rush that took place from 1848 to 1855 revealed that Americans and Canadians could readily displace the Russians in Alaska should gold be discovered in the area.
In 1859, Russia sent a sale-of-land proposal to both America and Britain. However, Britain quickly turned down the offer citing that they had enough territorial problems on their table. America, on the other hand, swiftly grabbed the opportunity and signed what came to be known as the “Alaska Purchase.” Sale negotiations began with Eduard Stocki and William Seaward as the lead negotiators. The United States initially offered a price of $5,000,000, but the Russians deemed it low. After a back and forth negotiation that lasted for years, the two countries agreed and closed the deal on 30 March 1867. The U.S. acquired Russian America for $7.2 million, and the territory formerly named “Alyaska” was renamed “Alaska.” (1, 2, 3)
2. A 13-year-old boy in a contest designed the Alaskan state flag. The panelists selected Benny Benson’s design out of 700 other submissions from school children.
Benny Benson designed the gold-star-dotted blue flag in 1921. Before this, Alaska had no flag, so George Perk urged the locals to come up with one. The Alaskan children of grades 7-12 were challenged to design Alaska’s new flag. Benny Benson, who was a seventh-grader at that time, put his creativity to the challenge. He spent late nights watching the skies and drew what every Alaskan would observe gazing at the sky – the seven stars and the guiding star. The blue-colored background on the flag represented the skies of Alaska and the Alaskan flower called “forget-me-not.” The pole star symbolized the future of Alaska, and the big dipper symbolized strength.
Benson’s drawing impressed the judges who picked it out of 700 other submissions from children between grades 7-12. Benson’s efforts were rewarded with a watch depicting the flag and $1,000 worth of scholarships. Alaskan’s flew the flag for the first time in July 1927. The flag was officially adopted as the state flag in 1959. (1, 2)
3. Alaska is not only the northernmost and westernmost state in the United States but is also technically the easternmost as well because it crosses the 180° meridian of longitude.
Determining the northernmost, westernmost, southernmost, and easternmost state in the U.S. can be a bit tricky. Technically, Alaska takes three of the cordial points. Considering all the 50 states, Alaska is regarded as the northernmost, easternmost, and westernmost because of the Aleutian Islands that stretch past the 180-degree-longitude line. Hawaii, on the other hand, is the southernmost state at 20 degrees north. To add, another reason for this unique title is that the furthest end to the east is where west starts. Technically where east and west meet.
4. Until 1986, you didn’t even need to buy property in Alaska. You could build a house, and the land would have been yours.
In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a homesteading act to enable Americans to acquire state land for agricultural purposes. This act was seen as a way of raising the living standards of U.S. citizens. A specific set of requirements were to be met before you are given the land. People who could homestead in the U.S. included men, women, freed slaves, and settlers. Homesteading in Alaska began in 1898 when President William McKinley signed a law to extend the Homestead Act to the District of Alaska. However, few residents of Alaska claimed the federal land. The number of homesteads claimed rose after 1912 when Alaska became a territory.
By the time Homestead Act ceased in Alaska in 1988, a total of 3,500 people had claimed land totaling to 360,000 acres and were given it for free. To homestead in Alaska, one needed to stake territory and register it at the nearest land office. Also, the homesteader was required to build a house and cultivate the area for at least five years. People in Alaska were allowed to claim federal land except fields marked as national parks, monuments and or National Forests. The last person to homestead in Alaska was Kenneth Deardorff in 1988. He claimed an 80-acre plot of land on Stony River in 1974 and received the deed in 1988. (1, 2)
5. Whittier is a town in Alaska with 217 residents, and everybody lives in the same 14-story building called “Begich Towers.” The tower has a school, hospital, church, and grocery store.
Imagine you and all your fellow townsfolks living under one roof in a one-story building. Well, there is a town in Alaska called Whittier where over 80% of its residents live in one 14-story building, Begich Towers. The building is a former army barracks that was used by the military during the Cold War era. When the army vacated the building, the residents took it over and left their homes, which can be seen from the 14-story building.
Begich Towers is quite convenient to the dwellers as it has a school, a church, a grocery store, a clinic, a police station, and a convenience store. The latter is used to store extra, useless items to save space in the tiny apartments. To add, you can only access this building by only two means – by boat or by a tunnel. Two hundred and seventeen people occupy the building. (1, 2)