The Department of Alaska, as the new territory was called immediately after its acquisition, was governed first by the U.S. Army (from 1867 to 1877), then by the U.S. Treasury (from 1877 to 1879) and the U.S. Navy (from 1879 to 1884). In 1884, the U.S. government changed Alaska’s status from being a county to having its own civilian administration.
Exploration of the interior continued in Alaska and trading posts were established, but a breakthrough in development occurred only after the discovery in 1896 of gold on the Klondike River in the Canadian Yukon Territory neighboring Alaska.
Tens of thousands of gold prospectors from around the world poured into the Klondike area. Although the gold was found in Canada, the fastest areas of the Alaskan coast which had grown rapidly were Dye and Skagway. From there the miners would travel through the mountains on the famous Chilkoot Trail and float down the Yukon River. Interestingly, a year’s supply of food was a prerequisite for a prospector to be allowed into Canada by the border authorities. In this way, the authorities of Canada fought the threat of famine in the settlements on the Yukon, because to deliver there supplies was a huge problem in those years.
In 1898 gold was found around the town of Nome in Alaska, and in 1902 – in the area of modern Fairbanks. Now settlers were going to Alaska in search of gold.
The gold rush of the late 19th and early 20th centuries helped Alaska’s population and economy grow.
The discovery of gold in Alaska left a marked mark on U.S. culture. Jack London wrote his famous books about prospectors; one of the most famous comedies of American cinema is rightly considered “Gold Rush” by Charlie Chaplin in 1925.
In 1976, the U.S. established a National Historical Park dedicated to the Klondike gold rush.
In the twentieth century, Alaska’s economy began to boom. In 1902, the Alaska Railroad was built, linking the port of Seward with Fairbanks. The mining of minerals in Alaska (primarily copper) grew rapidly, and commercial fishing developed. In 1912 Alaska received the status of a U.S. territory.
During the Great Depression, Alaska, like other U.S. states, suffered greatly. Production declined sharply, and unemployment rose. In the thirties, on the initiative of Franklin Roosevelt, the thirty-second president of the United States, a relocation program was created to develop agriculture in southern Alaska.
During World War II, in 1942, Japanese troops occupied the two islands of the Aleutian Range, Attu and Kiska. The Americans regained control of the islands in 1943.
In 1968, the richest oil fields were discovered in northern Alaska. The discovery had a great impact on the development of the state’s economy, especially after the Trans Alaska pipeline was built in 1977 to bring oil from the north, from Prudhoe Bay, to Valdez Point on Alaska’s south coast.