Alaska Facts
Alaska Facts

50 Interesting Alaska Facts

Karin Lehnardt
By Karin Lehnardt, Senior Writer
Published February 13, 2017Updated September 2, 2019
  • Alaska has 591,000 square miles (375,000,000 acres) and is double the size of the next largest state, Texas.[1]
  • Juneau, Alaska, with over 3,000 square miles (192,000 acres) within its boundaries, has the largest area of any North American city. The North Slope Borough, at 88,000 square miles (5,632,000 acres), or slightly larger than Idaho, is the largest municipally governed entity in the world.[3]
  • Alaska is the most popular state for flying in the U.S. One of every 58 Alaskans is a registered pilot, and one out of 59 owns an airplane. Lake Hood in Anchorage is the largest and busiest seaplane base in the world, averaging 234 landings and take-offs per day.[1]
  • Gambler Tex Rickard gained notoriety in the saloons of Circle City, Alaska, in 1895 at the age of 24. He later went on to build Madison Square Garden in New York City.[1]
  • One of the earliest records of man in the Americas is a caribou bone with a serrated edge found at Old Crow in Alaska’s northern Yukon. Almost certainly used by man as a tool, carbon dating has placed the bone at 27,000 years old.[3]
  • Random Alaska Facts
    Alaskan Inuit are commonly known as Eskimos which comes from the French Esquimau
  • Alaskan Inuit are commonly known as Eskimos, which comes from the French word Esquimau which, in turn, is derived from the Algonquin word askimowew, which means “eater of raw fish.”[3]
  • In 1741, Danish explorer Vitus Bering, commanding the St. Peter, sailed southeast from Kamchatka, came up south of the Aleutians, passed Kodiak, and sighted Mt. St. Elias on the Alaskan mainland. Bering died from scurvy and was buried on what is now Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.[3]
  • In 1784, Gregor Shelekhov, fur trader and merchant chief of the Russian-America Company, established the first permanent settlement at Three Saints Bay on Alaska’s Kodiak Island.[3]
  • In 1865, the Western Union Telegraph expedition, led by William Dall, surveyed the interior of Alaska for the first time, revealing its vast land and resources.[3]
  • On July 7, 1958, the U.S. Congress voted to admit Alaska into the Union as the 49th state, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the proclamation on January 3, 1959.[3]
  • The Alaskan Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971 remains the most extensive compensation to any Native people in the history of the United States. It gives Alaska’s aboriginal groups 40 million acres of traditional-use lands, plus a billion dollars to be divided among all American citizens with at least 25% Athabascan, Inuit, or Aleut blood.[3]
  • The name Alaska is derived from an Aleutian word alaxsxaq which literally means the “object toward which the action of the sea is directed.” The Russians called it Alyeska.[2]
  • To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.

    - John Muir

  • On March 24, 1989, the 987-foot Exxon Valdez supertanker ran aground hard on Bligh Reef, Alaska, opening a tractor trailer-sized hole in the side of the ship. It began to leak oil, eventually releasing 11 million gallons of oil into the ocean. It was the largest oil spill in U.S. history until the Deepwater Horizon event in 2010.[3]
  • Alaska is the only U.S. state to produce platinum. Half a million ounces have been placer mined from southwestern Alaska since the first platinum nugget was discovered there by an Eskimo named Walter Smith in 1926.[3]
  • On a tip from fellow prospector Robert Henderson, a sourdough named George Cormack and his two Indian brothers-in-law, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie, found gold in Alaska’s Klondike Valley at Bonanza Creek on August 17, 1896. This sparked North America’s last great gold rush.[3]
  • Called “the Great Race of Mercy,” the Iditarod Trail experienced a surge of glory in the winter of 1925-1926 when a relay team of 20 dog mushers rushed Diphtheria serum 674 miles from Nenana, Alaska, to Nome in 127½ hours, a record at the time.[9]
  • The March 27, 1964, Good Friday Great Alaska Earthquake—a mega-thrust earthquake measuring 9.2 on the Richter Scale—was the largest earthquake ever recorded on the North American continent and the second largest recorded by seismograph. It did $113 million in damage.[3]
  • Interesting Alaska Earthquake Fact
    The earthquake lasted four minutes and thirty-eight seconds,

  • The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is a famous 1,000 mile (1,609 km) race from Anchorage to Nome each February. The Iditarod record was set in 2011 by John Quniaq Baker (also the first Native Inupiaq to win the race) in a time of 8 days, 19 hours, 46 minutes, and 39 seconds.[8]
  • In June 1942, Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander-in-chief of the Japanese navy, ordered a diversionary thrust at the Aleutian Islands, and Japanese carrier-based airplanes struck twice at Dutch Harbor, a large new U.S. naval base in Unalaska Bay. The Japanese also later attacked and briefly occupied Attu and Kiska Islands during WWII.[3]
  • Famous bush pilot Wiley Post and humorist Will Rogers crashed and died while landing at Barrow, Alaska, in 1935. The Barrow International Airport is named today the Wiley Post-Will Rogers International Airport after the two men.[3]
  • Originally established as the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserving 1901, Tongass National Forest covers almost the entire southeastern Alaska panhandle, making it the largest national forest in the United States.[9]
  • Admiralty Island Monument, part of Tongass National Forest, has the greatest known concentration of bald eagles in the world, averaging more than one nest per mile of coastline in Seymour Canal—and one brown grizzly bear for every two eagles.[9]
  • Beach sand ridges at Alaska’s Cape Krusenstern National Monument, deposited by the ocean over time, curve in graceful arcs parallel to the Chukchi Sea and hide an unusual archaeological site in the far Arctic. The 114 ridges contain artifacts from every known Eskimo occupation of North America in chronological order, dating from 6000 BC.[9]
  • Secretary of State William H. Seward purchased Alaska on March 30, 1867, for the all-time bargain-basement price of $7,200,000 (2 cents an acre), and the American flag was hoisted over Sitka at the Baranof Castle on October 18, 1867.[3]
  • Interesting Anchorage Alaska Fact
    William H. Seward purchased Alaska on March 30, 1867 for $7.2 million USD

  • Turnagain Arm, an Alaskan fjord along the southern boundary of Chugash State Park, has one of the highest tidal variations in the world at 32 feet (10 m).[9]
  • In June 1912, Alaska’s Mount Katmai Volcano and nearby Novarupta erupted, burying an entire 20-mile valley under ash and pumice. Mount Katmai collapsed, forming a caldera, inside which formed a glacier— the only known glacier in the world whose date of origin is known.[9]
  • The spectacular Malaspina Glacier in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is almost 50% larger than the state of Delaware.[9]
  • Nome, Alaska, was named when a cartographer marked its unnamed location on a map as “? Name” and a second cartographer misread it as “C. Nome.”[3]
  • Alaska’s Nondiscrimination Act of 1945 was the first civil rights-style legislation in the country, beating the New York State Legislature by mere weeks and U.S. Congress by two decades.[7]
  • Interesting Wyatt Earp Fact
    Legendary lawman Wyatt Earp served as Wrangell, Alaska’s sheriff for 10 days
  • Legendary lawman Wyatt Earp served as Wrangell, Alaska’s sheriff for 10 days in 1867 as he and his wife were passing through on their way to the Klondike.[1]
  • In 1913, women in Alaska were granted the right to vote—six years ahead of the 19th Amendment.[7]
  • In 2008, Alaskan governor Sarah Palin ran for vice president with presidential candidate John McCain. Elected in 2006, Palin was Alaska’s youngest and first female governor.[7]
  • Alaska’s first newspaper, The Sitka Times, was published in 1860.[7]
  • The 50th anniversary of the State of Alaska marked the end of an indigenous Alaskan Native language, Eyak, which became the first Native Alaskan language to lose all its speakers when Chief Marie Smith Jones died in January 2008.[7]
  • The first commercial flight in Alaska, from Fairbanks to Nome, occurred in 1927, two years after the dedication of the Alaska Railroad.[7]
  • In 1946, a consortium of like-minded Alaskan musicians looking for a musical outlet founded the state’s first symphony orchestra, The Anchorage Symphony Orchestra.[7]
  • The Red Dog zinc mine in northwest Alaska is the world’s largest zinc producer.[7]
  • Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, on the North Slope of the Brooks Range, is the site of the largest oil U.S. discovery in 1968 (15 billion barrels).[4]
  • Cape Saint Wales in Alaska, the site of the Eskimo village of Wales (pop. 150), is mainland North America’s farthest west point and is just 56 miles from Cape Dezhnev, mainland Asia’s farthest east point.[4]
  • The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission exploded three test shots (known as Long Shot, Millrow, and Cannikin) on Alaska’s Amchitka Island in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the last of which was a mega kiloton underground device.[4]
  • Alaska boasts both the highest point (Mount Denali at 20,306 feet [6,189 m]), and the lowest point (the Aleutian Trench at 25,000 feet [7,620 m] below sea level) in North America.[3]
  • Interesting Denali Fact
    In 1896, a gold prospector dubbed Denali, "Mount McKinley" in support of then-presidential candidate William McKinley

  • The Navajo and Apache, major American Indian groups in southwestern North America, speak the Diné language, which belongs to the same language family as the languages spoken by the Athabascan Indians in Alaska and western Canada.[4]
  • Taxation of Prudhoe Bay oil created vast new wealth for Alaskans, and the creation of the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend program in 1976 gave Alaskans a direct stake in oil production.[4]
  • The construction of the Alaska Highway from February to November 1942 is heralded as one of the great engineering feats of World War II. The 1,500-mile highway stretches from Fairbanks to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and then connects to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.[12]
  • Some 4,000 black troops in the 93rd, 95th, and 97th Regiments joined approximately 6,000 white troops in Alaska to work on the Alaskan Highway Project. This was a step forward to ending eventual desegregation in the U.S. Army in 1948.[12]
  • From September 1942 to September 1945, 7,926 American planes—fighters, bombers, and cargo—were ferried along the Alaskan/Siberian Ferry Route (ALSIB), which was an air ferry system supplying the Russians with American aircraft during World War II.[12]
  • Interesting Grizzly Bear Facts
    On Admiralty Island, in the Alexander Archipelago, grizzly bears outnumber humans three to one
  • Admiralty Island, in the Alexander Archipelago, supports North America’s largest concentration of grizzly bears. An estimated 6,000 grizzly bears inhabit the Alaskan island, outnumbering Admiralty’s human inhabitants nearly three to one.[4]
  • William Paul, a Tlingit member of the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB), appeared before the U.S. Congress in 1921 to testify against fish traps. His appearance was the first by an Alaska Native as an advocate for a particular policy or program.[5]
  • In the spring of 1958, Dr. Edward Teller, a Hungarian-born physicist, spearheaded an effort by the AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) to set off a nuclear explosion to excavate a deep-water harbor between Nome and Barrow, Alaska. Project Chariot, also known as Project Plow Share, was abandoned due to concerns raised by the U.S. Environmental Committee.[6]
  • The last homestead to be awarded under the Homestead Act was in 1988 to Kenneth Deardorff, who originally filed for his 80-acre parcel on the Stony River in Alaska in 1974.[11]

  • Alaska State Symbols[1][3][10]
    NicknameThe Last Frontier
    CapitalJuneau (population 31,275)
    MottoNorth to the Future
    BirdWillow Ptarmigan
    FishKing Salmon
    FlowerWild Forget-Me-Not
    FossilWoolly Mammoth
    Land MammalMoose
    Marine MammalBow-headed Whale
    InsectFour-spot Skimmer Dragonfly
    TreeSitka Spruce
    SportDog Mushing

    Important Dates[2][3][4][6][9]
    1725First Russian makes contact with Natives in Alaska
    1741Vitus Bering sites the Aleutian Islands and begins Russian exploration of Alaska
    1778British Captain James Cook explores coastal Alaska on his voyage to find the Northwest Passage
    1784Gregor Shelekhov founds first permanent settlement on Kodiak Island
    1825Anglo-Russian treaty is signed, establishing Russia’s borders
    1835First mission school for Eskimos at Nushagak is started
    1867Russia sells Alaska to the U.S.
    1884First Organic Act is passed, which allows U.S. government to appoint officials to run the territory
    1867Klondike Gold Rush begins
    1898Homestead Act is extended to Alaska
    1899Nome Gold Rush begins
    Second Organic Act is passed, officially making Alaska a U.S. territory
    1912Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) is founded
    1913Women in Alaska are granted the right to vote
    1925“Great Race of Mercy” happens: Diphtheria serum is run on the Iditarod Trail to Nome
    1945Alaska ends legal segregation
    1956Alaska State Constitution is written and approved
    1959Alaska officially becomes the 49th state
    1961First Eskimo World Olympics is held in Fairbanks
    1966Alaska Federation of Natives is formed
    1968Oil is discovered in Prudhoe Bay
    1971Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) is enacted
    1976Alaska Permanent Fund is established
    1977Trans-Alaska pipeline begins transporting oil
    1980Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) designates almost 80 million acres as wilderness
    1989Exxon Valdez oil spill happens in Bristol Bay
    2008-2009Alaska celebrates 50th anniversary of statehood

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