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Alaska in the 50s


Mount McKinley Alaska
Mount McKinley Alaska

After spending for World War II ceased about 1945, Alaska was rescued from economic depression and obscurity by the Cold War, a 40-year period of hostility between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (which incorporated Russia). Defense construction and military activities turned Alaska into a defensive bulwark and created a second, even larger boom.

However, in 1959 Alaska’s economy was rather dismal. Military spending had passed its peak in 1954, gold mining had not recovered from its virtual shutdown for the war effort in the early 1940s, and the salmon fisheries faced a crisis brought about by federal mismanagement, overfishing, and competition from Japanese fishing fleets. Farm production and income from furs were negligible. In addition, the state now had to assume all the functions formerly performed by the federal government. For example, it had to establish a judicial system and manage its fish and game resources. The timber industry, however, was improving: in 1954, the first large pulp mill had opened in Ketchikan. Also, in 1957, Richfield Oil Corporation discovered the Swanson River field on the Kenai Peninsula, establishing Alaska’s first commercially viable oil production.

Alaska is geologically unstable. Residents were reminded of this at 5:36 pm on March 27, 1964, when one of the greatest earthquakes of all time struck south central Alaska. It measured 9.2 on the Richter scale and released twice as much energy as the 1906 earthquake that destroyed San Francisco. The total damage for the quake is estimated to have been between $350 million and $500 million, but that includes the damage due to a tsunami that hit the West Coast.

Fortunately, the loss of life was relatively low, with only 114 people killed. The town of Valdez was totally destroyed, most of the office buildings in the center of Anchorage were destroyed or severely damaged, and whole subdivisions slid into Cook Inlet. Kodiak’s crab and salmon processing facilities were shattered, and Seward’s shoreline looked as though it had been bombed. The federal government came to the aid of the stricken state, and on August 14, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law legislation that generously assisted Alaska reconstruction."USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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