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ImageAlaska is the northernmost state in the United States. It is often called The Land of the Midnight Sun. Because the state is so far north, you can still see the sun at midnight in summer. In winter, darkness lasts much of the day. Alaska has cold winters, but summers in most parts of the state are pleasant and mild.

Alaska is the largest state in the Union. It is more than twice the size of Texas. Alaska also has the highest mountain in the United States. Mount McKinley rises 20,320 feet (6,194 meters) above sea level. Native Americans call this mountain Denali, which means “The High One.”

Alaska is a rugged, wild, and beautiful land. It has majestic mountains and deep fjords (narrow inlets on the coast), slow-moving glaciers, and active volcanoes. Dense forests cover some of Alaska; other parts are treeless and without much plant life. You can take a dip in hot springs or in an icy stream. Alaska is a land of contrasts.

Facts About Alaska






649,000 people

Rank among states in population


Major cities

Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks


663,000 square miles
1,720,000 square kilometers

Rank among states in area



January 3, 1959, the 49th state

State nickname

The Last Frontier

Name for residents


State bird

Willow Ptarmigan

State flower


State tree

Sitka Spruce




Over 10,000 years ago, the first Americans crossed a land bridge from Asia to Alaska. The people gradually spread out along the coast of Alaska. Eventually, the oceans rose and the Bering Sea covered the land bridge.

Alaska’s native peoples—the Inuit and Aleuts—are related to these first Americans. The state’s name comes from an Aleut word, Alyeska, which means “great land.”

Many Inuit (Eskimos) follow practices of long tradition. They travel by dogsled and kayak. They hunt seals, whales, caribou, and other animals for food. They use sealskins to make clothing and summer tents. The Inuit respect the animals they hunt. After killing an animal, they perform special ceremonies to honor the animal’s spirit. Alaska’s Inuit used to build igloos as shelters on hunting trips. But they do not live in igloos.


In the 1700s, Russia’s tsar (ruler) heard there was a land east of Russia that was rich in furs. He sent an explorer to look for it. The explorer, Vitus Bering, found Alaska in 1741.

The Russians began to set up fur-trading posts and forts along Alaska’s coast. This made the Tlingit Native Americans angry. In 1802, they destroyed Sitka, a Russian settlement in Alaska.


Tlingit resistance and money problems at home made Russia decide to sell Alaska to the United States. William Seward, the U.S. secretary of state, reached an agreement with Russia in 1867. The United States purchased Alaska for $7.2 million. Some newspapers called the purchase “Seward’s Folly.” A folly is a foolish act.

The purchase of Alaska did not turn out to be a foolish act. The territory became increasingly valuable to the United States. On January 3, 1959, Alaska became the 49th state. Juneau is the capital. Anchorage is the largest city.


After the Russian fur traders, the next migration to Alaska came with gold rushes. Gold was discovered near Juneau in 1880. Miners later found gold in Nome and other places. By the summer of 1900, more than 20,000 miners lived in tents in downtown Nome. In 1902, Fairbanks was founded as a result of gold discoveries nearby.


Large oil deposits were discovered in 1968 at frozen Prudhoe Bay in northern Alaska. In the 1970s, a long pipeline was built to carry oil from Prudhoe Bay to the ice-free port of Valdez in southern Alaska.

Oil has brought wealth and more people to Alaska, but it has also brought problems. In 1989, an oil tanker hit a reef near Valdez. The tanker spilled millions of gallons of oil into Alaskan waters. The oil killed thousands of birds and sea mammals such as seals and sea otters.


In the winter of 1925, a disease called diphtheria struck many children in Nome. The children needed a special medicine called a serum to survive. The nearest serum was in Anchorage.

The fastest way to get the serum to Nome was by dogsled. A group of courageous dogsled drivers (called “mushers”) and dogs carried the serum 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) across frozen land in the dark of winter. Nome was saved!

Each year in March, dogsled teams race from Anchorage to Nome to celebrate this event. The event is called the Iditarod. The name of the event comes from the town of Iditarod located halfway between Nome and Anchorage.


Did you know that Alaska’s flag was designed by a 13-year-old boy? John Ben “Benny” Benson created the design in 1927 for a flag contest. Benson was living in an orphanage at the time. The flag features the Big Dipper and the North Star against a deep blue background. The North Star stands for Alaska. What would you put on a flag to represent your state?

 Source: Microsoft ® Encarta