Photographic book

Alaska in the years 14 - 18


Tanana Valley
Tanana Valley

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, many Alaskan men left to join the armed services or to work in war industries. After the war, Alaska’s economy was still centered on its natural resources. Mining and fishing were far more important than the fur trade. But the fisheries gave little employment to territorial residents since the salmon packers brought their own crews north each summer. The prospectors’ primitive mining methods had given way to the use of machinery; large dredges now recovered the gold. Copper mining had come to rival gold, but provided jobs for only several hundred. Agriculture had not flourished. Alaska was still very much a colony: it had limited home rule, Congress controlled its natural resources, and it supplied raw materials in exchange for finished goods and investment capital. The beginning of the air age in the 1920s had a great impact on Alaska. It was difficult to build roads and railroads in the territory because of its rugged terrain, severe climate, and vast distances. However, the airplane made previously remote locations accessible.

Alaska played a large role in the early years of aviation and was the scene of important flights. For example, the U.S. Army fliers who made the first round-the-world flight used Alaskan landing fields.

Alaska experienced an economic slump after the war, residents left, and economic growth slowed well into the 1930s. The 1920 census showed a population of 55,036, a drop of 9,320 from 1910.

Employment in the mines declined; in 1938 the Kennecott mine, Alaska’s last great copper mine, closed. Salmon prices also declined. Although Alaska suffered less from the Great Depression of the 1930s than the rest of the United States, its economy was affected. For example, federal appropriations for Alaska, never very high, were cut. Because of its perennial deficits, Congress became increasingly critical of the Alaska Railroad.

Americans looked to Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt to solve the misery of the Great Depression. Roosevelt responded with the New Deal, a composite of relief and reform programs. Some actions of the Roosevelt Administration benefited the territory. The devaluation of the dollar that resulted from raising the price of gold stimulated the mining industry: the value of mined gold rose from $10,209,000 in 1932 to $26,178,000 in 1940.

Most notable of all New Deal activities in Alaska was the Matanuska Valley agricultural colony. One of many resettlement projects designed to take people from rural districts mired in poverty and move them where they might lead more productive lives, the Matanuska experiment excited national interest. The cost amounted to $5 million. About 31 percent of the original settlers and 43 percent of the replacements still lived in the colony in 1948. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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