Twenty years ago, on January the 3rd, 1959, Alaska became the 49th state of the United States of America.
Twenty years ago, on January the 3rd, 1959, Alaska became the 49th state of the United States of America. It was the first new state to be admitted to the Union for 47 years. Within three months, Hawaii had also been added, to bring the total up to its present 50.
SYNOPSIS: The citizens of Fairbanks, in the heart of Alaska, celebrating statehood in July 1958, when the necessary legislation was safely through Congress. Six months later President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Bill, and a 49th star was added to the "Stars and Stripes".
Alaska had been United States territory for nearly a century -- since Secretary of State William H. Seward negotiated its purchase from Russia in 1867. Early settlers fought with nature to open up the inhospitable land.
Americans went there to look for gold in the 1880s and '90s; and to try to make a new start in the economic depression of the 1930s.
The link with Russia was renewed in the second world war. Soviet pilots went to Alaska to take over fighter aircraft flown up from American factories.
In March 1964, southern Alaska was struck by the worst earthquake ever recorded in North America. Casualties in this sparsely populated state were not very heavy -- just over a hundred dead or missing -- but material damage was immense.
An associated tidal wave wreaked havoc in Anchorage and other south coast towns.
Men of the United States Air Force set out from Nome, on Alaska's west coast. Alaska is only 60 miles (100 kilometres) from the Soviet Union across the Bering Strait, and an important link in the United States Early Warning System. In midwinter, it also provides ideal conditions for the airmen to carry out a week's training course in the techniques of survival in arctic weather.
Ten years ago, oil was discovered on the northern coast. There were prospects that Alaska's economy would be transformed, and that the oil would make a major contribution to United States fuel supplies. But the struggle to bring it to market has been an arduous one.
After several years of objections on environmental grounds, Congress approved the construction of 800 miles (1,3000 kilometres) of pipeline, right across the state from north to south. Work was started in 1974 -- and three years later the oil began to flow. It is not, yet making much contribution to United States fuel supplies, partly through difficulties in getting it away from Valdez; but it is already contributing millions of dollars in taxes to Alaska's state revenues.