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Alaska, largest state in the United States, located at the extreme northwest corner of North America, separated from the rest of the continental United States by northwest Canada; bordered by British Columbia and Yukon Territory in the west, the Pacific Ocean in the south, the Bering Sea in the west, and the Arctic Ocean in the north.

Land and climate

Alaska's general coastline is 6,640 mi (10,686 km) long, longer than the coastlines of the other 49 states combined. In the southeastern part of the Alaskan mainland is the mountainous Panhandle region, which is paralleled by the Alexander Archipelago. The Alaska Range, in the south-central part of the state, contains the highest peak in North America, Mt. McKinley. Extending southwest from the Alaska Range are the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. The Aleutian Range, which extends over the peninsula to Attu Island, near the Asian continent, has many active volcanoes. Between the mountain chains along the Pacific Coast and the Brooks Range, an extension of the Rockies, lies the central plateau of Alaska, crossed by the Yukon River. Alaska's northernmost settlement is Point Barrow, lying in the frozen tundra of the Arctic Coastal Plain. Southern Alaska has a relatively mild climate, with brief but hot summers. Winters are much colder in central Alaska. Principal cities are Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau.


Oil is Alaska's most valuable natural resource. Prudhoe Bay, on the Arctic Coastal Plain, is believed by engineers to be the largest oil field in North America. Alaska's other major mineral products are gold, sand and gravel, and natural gas. Alaska's fishing industry is the largest in the United States. Salmon is the most important catch. Alaska's leading manufactures are food, petroleum, and paper products. Furs were the original motive for Alaska's colonization and are still important.


Alaska's constitution was adopted in 1956. The governor is elected for a 4-year term. The state senate has 20 members elected for 4-year terms, and the house of representatives is composed of 40 members serving 2-year terms. Alaska sends 1 representative and 2 senators to the U.S. Congress.


Russia claimed Alaska after Vitus Bering sighted it in 1741. Gregory Shelikof founded the first permanent white settlement in 1784 on Kodiak Island. U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward bought Alaska in 1867 for $7.2 million—about 2 cents an acre. Economic growth remained slow until the 1896 Klondike gold rush in the Yukon and after subsequent deposits were discovered in Nome in 1899 and Fairbanks in 1902. Alaska was established as a U.S. territory in 1912. World War II brought economic change to Alaska, with the United States sending thousands of workers to the territory to build defense installments and the Alaska Highway. In 1942 the Japanese occupied the Aleutian Islands of Agattu, Attu, and Kiska, the only part of North America to be invaded during the war. In 1968 the Prudhoe Bay oil field was discovered, transforming the economy. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which carries petroleum from Prudhoe Bay to the port of Valdez, was completed in 1977. In 1980 the federal government, which controls most of the state's land, set aside more than 104 million acres 42 million hectares) for wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, and national parks and preserves. In 1989 the Exxon Valdez accidentally discharged 10 million gal (39 million l) of oil into Prince William Sound, in North America's worst oil spill.



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