Important moments captured in print
The images in this archival portfolio prove what we’ve always known: There’s no place on Earth like Alaska. The storied history of our state includes, well, statehood itself, along with catastrophic volcanic eruptions, record-shattering earthquakes, the gold rush, groundbreaking legislation, and the purchase of Alaska from Russia—to name a few. While we couldn’t include every monumental event, we hand-selected a few unique and compelling images to serve as a reminder of the people, places, decisions, and elements of the natural world that have shaped the Great Land.
Anchorage’s Fourth Avenue looking east after the devastating earthquake of 1964
The massive 9.2 magnitude Good Friday earthquake occurred on March 27. The shaking and subsequent tsunamis and landslides caused more than 100 deaths, and the state sustained $311 million in damages. The quake was the most powerful recorded in North American history. A colossal 200,000 megatons of energy from three minutes of activity collapsed 4th Avenue into two tiers with one half of the road 20 feet lower than the other. Tsunamis, landslides, and deep fissures forever altered the landscape.
Volcanic ash drifts around houses and a church at Katmai after the June 6, 1912, eruption of Novarupta.
The eruption, accompanied by a series of severe earthquakes, was larger in scale than any other in the 20th century. Magma covered three cubic miles, decimating villages in Katmai and spewing exceptional volumes of ash toward Kodiak, which formed avalanches and collapsed buildings. The event lasted 60 hours, ultimately resulting in the Katmai caldera and Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.
Treasury warrant in the amount of $7.2 million for the purchase of Alaska, 1868.
In 1866, Russia offered to sell the territory of Alaska to the United States. Secretary of State William H. Seward enthusiastically negotiated the deal, agreeing to pay Russia what amounted to less than two cents per acre for nearly 600,000 square miles. Opponents of the deal named the purchase “Seward’s Folly” until gold was discovered, and then even the harshest critics realized the invaluable asset that had been added to the country.
Chief Johnson totem pole, Ketchikan, Alaska, between 1905 and 1915
55 feet high and carved from a single western red cedar log, this pole was raised near the ancestral fishing grounds of the Tongass Tlingit in 1901. Chief George Johnson, chief of the Gaanaxadi clan, commissioned the totem to honor the passing of his mother. The carving is one of the most photographed totems in the world. The original pole is stored at the Totem Heritage Center, and in 1981 a replica pole was raised in its place.
The first locomotive in Alaska, purchased by White Pass and Yukon Railroad, Skagway, 1898
The White Pass and Yukon route required bridges, tunnels, and 110 miles of track climbing from sea level in Skagway to a 3,000-foot summit. Building the railway was a Herculean task of engineering, labor, and expense, driven by the need to create an easier way to get prospectors and supplies to mining areas. Construction was completed July 29, 1900.
U.S. soldiers of the southern landing force on the beach at Massacre Bay, Attu Island, Alaska, during the Battle of Attu, May 1943.
The craft in the foreground belonged to the attack transport USS Heywood.
The Battle of Attu started on May 11, as the U.S. miliary fought to expel Japanese
invaders from American soil during WWII. The Japanese attacked Alaska’s Aleutian Islands on June 7, 1942, and occupied Attu until the U.S. was able to retake the island after an 18-day assault that resulted in 2,351 Japanese and 549 American deaths.
Celebrated sled dog, Balto, with musher Gunnar Kaasen, circa 1925
Norwegian immigrant Kaasen and his lead dog Balto successfully delivered the diphtheria antitoxin to Nome after completing the 53-mile last leg of a 674-mile relay from Nenana to Nome during a brutal winter over a route only accessible by dogsled. The life-saving serum was delivered in 127.5 hours—without a single broken vial—to stop an epidemic that threatened to kill thousands. The mushing teams braved gale-force winds, whiteout conditions, and temperatures of 85 below.
Alaska Native Sisterhood in Douglas, Alaska, in 1921.
Founded in 1915, just three years after the Alaska Native Brotherhood, the ANS advocated for Alaska Native land claims, citizenship, and racial justice. In 1915, the territory would only allow Alaska Natives to become citizens if they renounced their culture and beliefs. For decades after, discrimination continued, and Natives were barred from establishments. The efforts of the ANS and ANB led to the passage of the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act and the 1945 Anti-Discrimination Act, and they continue to fight legislation that conflicts with Native practices.
Star Airlines Bellancas on pontoons at Lake Spenard, Anchorage, circa 1939.
This photo taken by Roy S. Dickson shows one of the two lakes that would be connected in 1940 by a single channel to become Lake Hood Seaplane Base, the world’s busiest seaplane base. Lake Hood handles more than 190 daily take-offs and landings, providing access to millions of Alaskan acres inaccessible by roads. Lake Hood Seaplane Base is just one small part of Alaska’s storied aviation history.
Salmon being counted when passing through weirs, Karluk Lake, 1938
By law, a certain percentage of salmon had to be allowed to escape commercial fisheries in order to spawn. To check the percentage, counting weirs were maintained on many streams and rivers, a practice enforced in the 1950s by the ADF&G for monitoring. This is in stark contrast to the ways in which weirs were overused by fisheries in the late 1800s and early 1900s to capture fish rather than count them, which nearly decimated salmon populations. The earliest use of a weir in Alaska was by Alaska Natives and was recently discovered in Southeast, dating back 11,100 years.
Managing editor Lynn Thomas poses with Statehood Extra published by the Anchorage Daily News, June 30, 1958.
The Alaska Statehood Act was signed by Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower on July 7, 1958, resulting in Alaska officially becoming the 49th state on January 3, 1959.