In case you missed it amidst your New Year’s revelry, Alaska was granted statehood on as the 49th state of the United States on January 3, 1959. Back in 2011, when my mom died, my daughter, one of her older cousins and the cousin’s boyfriend were asked what’s the largest state in size, and only my seven-year-old daughter knew it was Alaska.
Upon attaining statehood, Alaska increased the size of the United States by nearly one-fifth. I think Americans are confused by the vastness of the state because most maps of the United States look like the one above, with Alaska (and Hawaii) relegated to the lower left corner of the map, usually with no scale. Hawaii usually appears larger than it is in relationship to the contiguous states, but Alaska almost appears MUCH smaller.
“The Last Frontier” is “the northernmost and westernmost state in the United States and has the most easterly longitude” in the country because the Aleutian Islands extend into the Eastern Hemisphere. Canada, specifically British Columbia and Yukon, border the state to the east. It has a maritime border with Russia to the west across the Bering Strait. To the north are the southern parts of the Arctic Ocean. The Pacific Ocean lies to the south and southwest. The state has a longer coastline than all the other U.S. states combined.
Yet Alaska is also the most sparsely populated U.S. state with a population of only 739,795 (2017). Denali National Park is home to Denali (formerly called Mount McKinley), North America’s highest peak. Alphabetically among the states, it’s second, after Alabama. In terms of postal codes, AK is first, before AL.
You may know why Russia gave up Alaska. The territory was difficult to defend and “Russia was short on cash due to the costs of the war in Crimea” in the 1850s.
But why the US want to buy it? “In Alaska, the Americans foresaw a potential for gold, fur, and fisheries, as well as more trade with China and Japan. The Americans worried that England might try to establish a presence in the territory, and the acquisition of Alaska – it was believed – would help the U.S. become a Pacific power. And overall the government was in an expansionist mode backed by the then-popular idea of ‘manifest destiny.’
So a deal with “incalculable geopolitical consequences was struck,” and the Americans seemed to get quite a bargain for their $7.2 million, approximately two cents per acre.
For ABC Wednesday