Black & White photo of Kayakers

Alaska's History

15,000 - 4,000 Before Present

  • Western science asserts 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.

4,000 - 3,500 Before Present

  • New data from the fossil record revealed the first permanent settlements in the high arctic areas appeared 4,000-3,500 years ago. Obsidian artifacts dating from 4,000-1,000 years before present have provided concrete evidence of transcontinental interaction between Siberia and Alaska.

The 1700s

  • In 1728, Vitus Bering, a Danish explorer, documents the Bering Strait between Asia and North America.
  • In 1741, A Russian expedition led by Vitus Bering, along with George Steller, made the first "discovery" of Alaska, landing near what today is Kayak Island.
  • In 1778, Captain James Cook sailed into what is now the Cook Inlet. Captain Cook continued to sail up the western coast of Alaska, through the Bering Strait, and entered into the Arctic Ocean but was forced to turn back due to ice blocking the way.
  • In 1780, 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."
  • In 1784, the first Russian settlement in Alaska was established on Kodiak Island at Three Saints Bay.

The 1800s

  • In April of 1867 The United States purchased Alaska for $7.2 million dollars in gold; roughly two cents an acre.
  • In 1872 gold was discovered near Sitka.
  • During 1888, more than 60,000 people arrived in Alaska in search of gold.
  • Special legislation in 1898 extends the provisions of the Homestead Act of 1862 to the Territory of Alaska allowing settlers in the state to stake a claim for 160 acres of public land for development as a homestead.
  • The Klondike Gold Rush occurred in 1897-1900, bringing over 100,000 prospectors who would attempt to travel north and seek their fortunes.

The 1900s

  • In 1900 the Capital of Alaska was moved from Sitka to Juneau.
  • President Theodore Roosevelt established the Tongass National Forest in 1907.
  • In 1925 a diphtheria epidemic cripples Nome, Alaska. Weather 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 five days in record cold and hurricane-force winds. Dogs like Togo and Balto are commemorated for their heroic work as lead dogs.
  • During World War II in 1942, Japan invades the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska. It would be a year before the American military would re-take the islands.
  • In 1944, Alberta Schenck Adams pens an essay in The Nome Nugget about her opposition to Jim Crow laws that had Alaska Native and Caucasian people to sit in seperate sections in the theater. 
  • In February 1945, Elizabeth Peratrovich, a civil rights leader for Alaska Natives, rose to address the Alaska Territorial Senate. The speech has been highly credited as being influential to the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill of 1945.
  • In 1959, almost 100 years after the purchase of Alaska, became the 49th State. President Eisenhower signed the official declaration on January 3, 1959.
  • A massive 9.2 magnitude earthquake rocks the southern portion of Alaska on Good Friday on 1964. The village of Chenega is destroyed, while Seward, Valdez and Anchorage sustained heavy damage. 130 people are killed mostly due to tsunamis and underwater landslides.
  • In 1968 oil is discovered in Prudhoe Bay and plans begin to build a pipeline to the North Slope to recover it.
  • The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) is passed in 1971, giving Alaska Natives land and capital, as well as establishing the Native Corporations.
  • The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) passes in 1980, creating the huge public lands system in Alaska. Over 100 million acres are set aside for preservation and protection throughout Alaska.
  • In 1989 an oil tanker known as the Exxon Valdez runs into a reef in the Prince William Sound, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil along 1,500 miles of coastline. A massive cleanup begins, lasting more than three years.