earliest European inhabitants were Russian fur traders who first came to
Kodiak Island in 1783.
Juneau and Douglas were gold-mining camps
that sprang up in the 1880s, but a greater boom was the Klondike gold rush
of the late 1890s. Most of the miners who headed to the Klondike in the
Yukon Territory were Americans, and most of them passed through
Alaska. Gold miners founded Nome in 1899 and Fairbanks in 1902. Anchorage
was founded in 1915 as the headquarters of the Alaska Railroad, then under
construction, and has since become the center of population.
Some people who arrived during the gold
rush stayed on in Alaska, but many returned to the "lower 48." Homesteading
was not legal in Alaska until 1898, and those filing homestead claims after
that date did not have to remain on the land in order to retain their
The Alaska population has increased
steadily since 1929. The Great Depression and World War II brought many
people seeking employment. The United States government settled about 200
families from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin in the Matanuska Valley,
fifty miles from Anchorage (see more about the Matanuska Valley Project at this site).
The North Slope oil discoveries of the late
1960s brought another wave of immigration. When Alaska became a state in
1959, half of the state's population had resided in the state less than five
years. Many residents were from western states. Only about one-fifth of the
white population was born in Alaska.