On January 3rd, 1959, President Eisenhower pronounced Alaska the 49th state in the Union. It was a proud day for most Alaskans, who had sought statehood over a period of years. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of why it was so important to people.
Alaska became a territory when the U S. bought it from Russia in 1867. It was largely neglected until the Klondike Gold Rush brought thousands of people here around the turn of the century. Suddenly, a sizable number joined the indigenous population, and they wanted the comforts and privileges of the rest of the country. As time went on, the territorial government grew, and the U. S. started noticing Alaska’s natural resources. World War II, and the Japanese invasion, led to a military buildup and even more people moving here. By the 1950s, outside companies were making fortunes from the Alaskan canning and fishing industries, and people wanted more local control of our resources. Statehood was a way to achieve that.
Some of the most vocal statehood proponents were Bob Bartlett, Ernest Gruening, and Bob Atwood. They, with others, lobbied Congress and the White House, created compromises to balance party concerns, and persevered for many years, Atwood was the publisher of the Anchorage Daily Times, and promoted statehood heavily in his newspaper and in other activities. The photo is from the Jan. 3, 1959 paper, showing the official proclamation and a 49-star flag.