Alaska, northernmost and westernmost state of the United States, and the largest state of the Union. It occupies the extreme northwestern region of the North American continent and is separated from Asia by the 82-km- (51-mi-) wide Bering Strait. Alaska has belonged to the United States since 1867, when it was bought from Russia by Secretary of State William H. Seward. The United States paid Russia $7.2 million for the rights of the Russian American Company in Alaska. By 1900 Alaska had become a land of golden opportunity as one gold discovery followed another and prospectors arrived by the tens of thousands. Although the gold rush was over within a few years, many people settled in Alaska, and fishing developed as an important industry. Alaska’s strategic importance became apparent during World War II (1939-1945) with the Japanese attack on Dutch Harbor and occupation of Attu and Kiska islands in the Aleutian chain.
Moreover, the United States wished to send military aid, particularly aircraft, through Alaska to the country’s wartime ally, Russia. During the 1940s and 1950s, a large influx of immigrants helped to give renewed impetus to Alaska’s movement for statehood. On January 3, 1959, Alaska was admitted to the Union as the 49th state. Alaska is a rugged, wild, beautiful land of majestic mountains and deep, high-walled fjords; of slow-moving glaciers and still-active volcanoes; of dense, coniferous forests and desolate, treeless islands; of hot springs and icy streams. It is a land of contrasts, with extremes of wind and sun, snow and rain, heat and cold.
Alaska is a land that has undergone tremendous change. Since becoming a United States territory in 1912, it has significantly developed its mineral, fishery, forest, and petroleum resources. The state now has a stable and self-sufficient economy based on its rich and varied natural resources—above all, oil and natural gas. Today’s Alaska is a composite of old and new, with fur trappers, traditional sea mammal hunters, and dog teams living in a state with modern cities connected to the world by all the modern means of communication. The name Alaska is probably derived from an Aleut word meaning “great land,” which originally referred to the Alaska Peninsula. Alaska is called the Last Frontier, because of its opportunities and many lightly settled regions, and the Land of the Midnight Sun, because the sun shines nearly around the clock during Alaskan summers. Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city, and Juneau is the state capital. © "United States" © Emmanuel Buchot and Encarta
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