15 Fun Facts about Alaska

When Secretary of State William Henry Seward agreed to purchase Alaska for a cool $7.2 million on March 30, 1867, some headlines immediately proclaimed the purchase of the sub-arctic land from the Russia Empire as Seward’s Folly. However, 150 years later, Seward would get the last laugh as that exchange between the two world powers is now viewed as practical robbery at the cost of approximately just two cents an acre. To remember the sesquicentennial of the acquisition of Alaska, here are 15 fun facts about the land known as The Last Frontier.

1. Only a few hundred people remain who speak the Aleut language that gave Alaska its name, which literally means “object to which the action of the sea is directed.”

2. Russia and the United States share the two Diomede Islands in the middle of the Bering Strait. On Little Diomede Island, the city of Diomede lies just 2.4 miles away from Russia’s island and 1.2 miles from the International Date Line. For this reason, the two islands are sometimes referred to as Tomorrow Island and Yesterday Isle.

3. The westernmost city on mainland North America is Wales, Alaska. About 110 miles north of Nome, Wales is home to 145 people who live approximately 54 miles from mainland Russia.

4. Fearing they might lose their hard-to-defend land in a future conflict with Great Britain, who occupied the nearby colony of British Columbia, Russia desired to sell the land to the United States for compensation and to weaken British power in the area.

5. With a land area over 663,000 square miles. Alaska is larger than all but 18 countries.

6. Alaska is larger than the combined area of the 22 smallest U.S. states.

7. Alaska is larger than the area of Texas, California, and Montana put together.

8. Formerly known as Mount McKinley, Denali rises 20,310 feet above sea level at its summit, making it North America’s tallest mountain peak.

9. There are no roads connecting the capital city of Juneau to the rest of Alaska or North America. Due to the city’s rugged surrounding terrain, the city’s population of 31,000 must receive all its goods by plane or boat.

10. While you can’t reach Juneau by car, you can take the Dalton Highway (also known as Alaska Route 11 or the Haul Road) from Fairbanks all the way to Prudhoe Bay. However, only about 25% of the 414 mile road is paved. The speed limit is only 55 mph, and there are only 3 gas stops along the way, including no services for 240 miles between Deadhorse and Coldfoot.

11. Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city. With approximately 300,000 residents, the city contains nearly 40% of the state’s total population. Only New York has a higher percentage of residents who live in its most populous city.

12. Temperatures vary greatly in Alaska. For example, thanks to the ocean, winters are fairly mild in Juneau, where the annual January temperature is 32 Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, in the northernmost city of Barrow on the Arctic Ocean coast, the average high in July is only 47. The lowest official temperature recorded in Alaska is -80 Fahrenheit.

13. The city of Skagway, Alaska, was a boom town during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898, as well as the setting for Jack London’s book The Call of the Wild. Today it’s a popular stop for cruise ships. Alaska, however, is now better known for its black gold after oil was discovered at Prudhoe Bay in the late 1960s. Today, it remains the largest oil field in North America.

14. The only land battle of World War II fought on incorporated U.S. territory took place on Attu Island, the westernmost of the Aleutian Islands. The U.S. won back control of the island after a more than two-week struggle that kept the Americans in control of sea lanes in the Northern Pacific.

15. Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959. Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the official declaration, although the Republican president had previously refused to support statehood for Alaska under the assumption that it was a Democratic-leaning territory. To date, Alaska has voted for a Republican 14 times in 15 presidential elections.

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