United States Territory

Alaska was at various times under the jurisdiction of the War, Treasury, and Navy departments, but no attention was given to its internal problems until 1884. In that year, an act of Congress established civil and judicial government in Alaska. The United States did not really become interested in Alaska until 1896, when gold was discovered in the Klondike in Canada's Yukon Territory. This event led to a gold rush across Alaska and substantial discoveries at Nome (1899) and Fairbanks (1902). The seat of administration was moved from Sitka to Juneau in 1900.

As a result of Alaska's growing importance, Canada pressed its claims to territory bordering British Columbia on the Pacific. An international commission decided in favor of the United States in 1903. Also in 1903, Congress enacted an Alaskan homestead law to encourage settlement. An international dispute over seal hunting in the Bering Sea was settled by treaty in 1911.

The Alaska boundary disputeThe Alaska boundary dispute between Canada and the United States was settled in 1903 by a special commission. The dispute resulted from differing interpretations of an 1825 agreement. The agreement, made by Russia and the United Kingdom, ambiguously defined the border between Russian America (later Alaska) and northwestern Canada.

In 1912 Congress passed the Organic Act of Alaska, designating Alaska an organized territory. The territorial legislature met for the first time in 1913. In 1916 a statehood bill was introduced in Congress; it was the beginning of a 42-year struggle for admission.

Economic progress continued after the gold-rush period, but at a slower pace. Population, which had risen to about 64,000 at the peak of the gold rush, totaled about 55,000 in 1920. During the 1920's, the salmon industry was expanded, modern mining methods were developed, and transportation was improved. The Alaska Railroad, linking Alaska to British Columbia, was completed in 1923. Beginning in 1935, farmers from the “Dust Bowl” region of the Middle West began to migrate to Alaska.

Alaska's strategic military importance was not recognized until World War II. In 1942 the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands, for a time occupying Attu and Kiska. Military personnel and construction workers were sent in increasing numbers to bolster Alaska's defenses. After the war a substantial military force remained.

Important dates in Alaska
1741 Captain Vitus Bering, a Danish navigator, landed on what is now Kayak Island.
1784 Russians established the first white settlement in Alaska, on Kodiak Island.
1824-1825 Russia agreed to recognize latitude 54 degrees 40 minutes as the southern boundary of Alaska.
1867 The United States purchased Alaska from Russia.
1884 Congress gave Alaska laws and a federal court.
1897-1898 The Klondike and Alaska gold rush started.
1906 Alaskans elected their first delegate to the U.S. Congress.
1912 Congress established Alaska as a U.S. territory.
1942 The Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor and invaded the Aleutians. The Alaska Highway was completed.
1958 Congress approved Alaskan statehood on June 30.
1959 Alaska became the 49th state on January 3.
1968 Large oil reserves were discovered near Prudhoe Bay.
1971 Congress passed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, giving 44 million acres (18 million hectares) of land to native Alaskans.
1977 Workers completed construction of a pipeline to carry oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez.
1980 Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, which placed about a fourth of the state's land in the National Park System.
1989 The Exxon Valdez dumped nearly 11 million gallons (42 million liters) of oil into Prince William Sound in the largest oil spill in United States history.
1992 Most of the Exxon Valdez oil-spill cleanup was completed at a cost of more than $2 billion.
2006 Sarah Palin took office as Alaska's first woman governor.