The existence of mankind in Alaska can be traced back to more than 10,000 B.C., when Paleolithic humans crossed the Bering Land Bridge and formed settlements in the western parts of Alaska. At this point in time, Alaska was inhabited by Inuit tribes and a large variety of natives. Even today, some of these tribes, like the Athabascans, the Aleut, Inupiat, and Yupik are alive. Some of the members of these tribes settled in present-day Canada. Studies reveal that the Aleut tribes settled in the Aleutian Islands about 10,000 years ago.
In 1493, the Spanish claimed the whole of the western coast of North America. Several expeditions were sent to claim the coasts in the name of Spain. However, the Spanish never established any large colonies in Alaska. The prominent among these expeditions were those undertaken by Bruno de Heceta and Salvador Fidalgo in 1775 and 1790, respectively.
In the 18th century, the Russians began to regularly travel down to the Aleutian Islands, near the coastline of Alaska. Most of these travelers were fur traders and hunters. These expeditions began setting up permanent settlements and trading posts by the end of 1790s.
In some places, the Russian fur traders were able to establish very peaceful relations with the native tribes. However, in others, the settlers and the tribes engaged in constant conflicts. Skirmishes were prominently seen between the Russians and the Aleut tribe. The Aleut population, however, was significantly wiped out due to diseases that were brought by the Russians, against which they had no natural immunity. In 1785, a prominent Russian merchant, Grigory Ivanovich Shelikhov, landed on the Kodiak Island in Three Saints Bay, and established a Russian settlement after slaughtering many of the Koniaga people (residents of Kodiak Island). Some years later, in 1790, he hired Alexander Baranov to manage the colony and trade in the region. In order to establish monopoly in fur trade, Baranov started expanding his activities in present-day Sitka. After a few fights with the Tlingit tribe, the settlement of Mikhailovsk was established.
In the meantime, the Russian Orthodox Church had also started sending missionaries, to spread Christianity. Alaska, however, did not remain under the dominance of Russia. The British had established trading posts and small settlements in Alaska, and after the third voyage of Captain James Cook, the British became interested in the potential resources of the territory. Even after the Battle of Sitka, the Russians did not fully colonize Alaska, and the British and American monopoly in the fur trade began to grow.
The only reason that the Russians never fully colonized Alaska was that the trade profits of the Russian settlements were very low, and it was difficult to prevent the British and Americans from coming to Alaska. The financial difficulties of Russia prompted the authorities to sell Alaska to the United States of America for $7,200,000.
On 18th October, 1867, Alaska came under the control of the US. Alaska was a department of the United States of America from 1867 to 1884. During this time, it was under the jurisdiction of various agencies, namely the US Army (1867-1877), the Treasury Department (1877-1879), and the Navy (1879-1884).
In the year 1884, Alaska was converted from a department to a district. During the gold rushes of Yukon territory (1896) and Nome (1899), the population and economy of Alaska expanded. After the construction of the Alaska railroad in 1902, it became more intimately connected to the United States. The copper mining industry, canning, and fishing became prominent industries in the 1890s. In 1912, after the Second Organic Act was passed by the US Congress, Alaska became a territory.
During World War II, three Aleutian Islands were occupied by the Japanese forces, and some villagers were taken as captives. The islands were regained by the United States forces in May 1943, after a bloody struggle that caused 3,929 casualties. Oil was discovered in the Swanson river basin, giving new opportunities to the economy of Alaska. Alaska became the 49th state of the United States of America on 3rd January, 1959.
Some of the notable incidents in the history of this icy state are the Good Friday Earthquake (March 27, 1964), the completion of the Trans-Alaska Fuel Pipeline (1977) and the Exxon Valdez oil spill (1989).
Today, as a part of the United States of America, Alaska has managed to maintain a unique identity. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful states in the country, and is a favorite tourist destination.