Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Alaska
ALASKA, a Territory in the Western Division of the North American Union, comprising the extreme northwestern part of the American continent; bounded by the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, Bering Sea, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories of Canada; gross area, as far as determined, 581,107 square miles; purchased from Russia, in 1867, for $7,200,000; given a territorial district government in 1884; administrative districts 4; pop. (1910) 64,356; (1920) 54,718; seat of government, Juneau.
Topography.—The Territory includes Prince of Wales Island, the Alexander or King George Archipelago, and the Kadiak, Aleutian, Pribiloff, and St. Lawrence Islands. The coast line exceeds that of the entire Atlantic seaboard of the United States, and has several notable indentations, as Prince William's Sound, Cook Inlet, Bristol Bay, and Northern and Kotzebue Sounds. The extreme length of the mainland, from N. to S., is about 1,100 miles; extreme width, 800 miles. Among rivers, the most important are the Yukon, rising in British Columbia, and about 2,000 miles in total length; the Kuskokwim, which empties into Bering Sea; the Colville, Copper, and Sushitna. Here the Rocky Mountains merge into the Alaskan, culminating in Mount Wrangell, 17,500 feet high. Another range, near the coast, reaches its extreme height in Mount Logan, 19,500 feet (according to Harrington), and Mount Fairweather, 15,500 feet.
Geology.—The Arctic District is treeless with ranges of hills; the Yukon Basin has large areas of forests; the Kuskokwim District resembles the Yukon Basin, but has more mountains; the Aleutian comprises treeless islands; the Kadiak is still but little known; and the Sitka has valuable timber lands. The glacial and volcanic periods still survive; beds of cretaceous and miocene lignites, dikes of plutonic rock, hot and boiling springs, quartz-bearing ledges, and auriferous gravel beds and sands are abundant.
Mineralogy.—Gold was discovered on the Kenai peninsula in 1848, but was not sought further. In 1880, surface gold was found in the S. E., and systematic mining may be said to have begun then. Lignite coal, native copper, cinnabar, graphite, iron ore, white marble sulphur, medicinal sprints, mica, kaolin, manganese, asphalt, and petroleum are found in various sections, and many of them in accessible locations and paying quantities. At present gold mining is the principal mineral industry, and the largest fields are in the Yukon region, on both sides of the boundary line, and in the Cape Nome district, on Bering Sea, and wholly within the American territory, where gold was first discovered in 1898.
The annual production of gold has fallen off greatly in the last decade. It reached in 1909 a maximum of $29,411,716, falling to $9,480,952 in 1918. This is caused chiefly by the falling off in the discovery of bonanza mines and the neglect of the systematic development of the lower-grade ores. The production of copper has also shown a gradual decrease. The production in 1917 was 88,793,400 pounds, valued at $24,240,598. This fell off in 1918 to 69,224,951 pounds, valued at $17,098,563. The loss was due chiefly to a shortage of labor, and transportation. The production in 1919 was about 44,800,000 pounds of copper valued at $8,500,000. The coal production continues to be small, due chiefly to a lack of development. In 1918 it amounted to 75,616 tons, valued at $411,815. Other mineral products are lead, tin, platinum, and petroleum. The resources of the latter are indicated to be large and await only development and the building of railway lines.
Fisheries.—Fish are the most valuable of Alaskan products in value. The total investment in fishing industries in 1919 was $73,750,789. There were employed in the industry nearly 35,000 persons. The total value of fishery products was $69,154,859 in 1918. Over 90 per cent. of the fish taken were salmon. Others were herring, halibut, and whales. The herring industry has greatly increased in recent years through the introduction of the Scotch curing method. Salmon canneries in 1918 shipped about 5,500,000 cases of 48 pounds each.
The number of seals in the waters about Alaska has greatly increased, owing to the restrictions placed upon sealing by laws passed by Congress. The seal herds in 1919 numbered 524,269 seals. The number of seals taken during that year was 25,381. Under the International Convention, 15 per cent. of all seals taken go to Canada and an equal number to Japan.
Agriculture.—The United States Department of Agriculture has for many years made persistent and intelligent efforts to develop agriculture in the territory and these results have met with considerable success. There are large areas of land suitable for the raising of crops, both agricultural and horticultural. The Central Tanana Valley has been extensively occupied by farmers and in the Fairbanks district there are nearly 100 homesteads comprising nearly 25,000 acres. Nearly all varieties of hardy grains can be grown in Alaska and most hardy fruits and vegetables can be grown without difficulty.
Education.—There were in 1919 65 schools for natives in which were enrolled about 3,600 pupils. There was a Federal appropriation of $215,000 for the support of these schools. Schools are also maintained in the different localities for white pupils.
Banking.—In 1919, the Territory had one National bank, with $125,000 in capital, $11,250 in outstanding circulation. Much of the banking is done in Seattle, Wash., and San Francisco, Cal., whither the bulk of the output of gold is sent.
Commerce.—Trade between Alaska and continental United States has greatly increased in recent years. The value of shipments into and from Alaska in 1916 was $97,917,650; in 1917, $121,265,947; in 1918, $131,767,788; and in 1919, $117,018,135. The loss in the last year was chiefly due to the falling off of mineral production. Trade suffered from insufficient and irregular transportation.
Railroads.—There was under construction in 1919 the so-called United States railroad, authorized in 1914 at a cost of $35,000,000. This sum was increased in 1919 to $52,000,000, of which $6,000,000 was appropriated for work during 1919. The purpose of the project is to furnish transportation between a port on the Gulf of Alaska and the rich mines and lands of the Tanana valley and the Central Yukon valley. The system when completed will include 601 miles of track from Seward on the Kenai Peninsula to Fairbanks, the mining center of the Tanana valley. There will also be branch railroads to other important localities. There was at the end of 1919 in preparation a northern section of 143 miles and a southern section of 206 miles. There are only two railroads in the Territory under private control. These run from Cordova to Kennecott and from Skagway to White Horse.
Government.—Up to 1912 Alaska was an unorganized Territory and had no local legislative body. It was governed directly by Congress, and the officers were appointed by the President. In the year mentioned Congress passed a Civil Government Act which created a Legislature and Assembly with limited powers. By this act Alaska became an organized Territory with a Legislature consisting of a Senate of 8 members, two from each of the four districts, and a House of Representatives, consisting of 16 members, four from each judicial district. Senators serve four years and representatives two years. The Legislature meets every two years. Its first session was held in March, 1913. The legislative powers are limited, and it can pass no laws which are inconsistent with the laws already passed by Congress. At its first session the Legislature modified the qualifications for voters by extending the franchise to women. The governor has the usual power of veto. The executive officers are a governor, appointed by the President, secretary of the treasury, the secretary of the governor, and a surveyor-general. There are four judicial districts, with centers at Juneau, Nome, Valdez, and Fairbanks. Except in town of 300 or more, which are allowed to incorporate, there is no local government. Alaska is represented in Congress by one delegate.
History.—Alaska was discovered by Bering in 1741, and Russian settlements were made to a considerable distance southward. In 1772 many trading companies were established, and later Captain Cook's accounts of the fur animals there caused many more to be organized. In 1799 the Territory was granted to a Russian company by the Emperor Paul VIII., and in 1867 it passed to the United States by treaty with Russia. For several years there has been a contention between the United States and Great Britain concerning the boundary line between Alaska and the British territory in Canada, which became greatly accented in 1896 in consequence of the remarkable discoveries of gold in the Yukon valley. Both governments have had the disputed region surveyed, separately and by a joint commission, and the delimitation of the boundary was the most important matter referred to the Anglo-American Commission of 1898. In January, 1900, it was believed that a satisfactory settlement had been negotiated by the two governments.
On Jan. 24, 1903, a treaty was signed between the United States and Great Britain, by which was created the Alaska Boundary Tribunal, consisting of three from each country to settle questions in dispute. This tribunal met in London in the following September, and on Oct. 20, 1914, the majority voted against the Canadian contentions. The deciding vote was cast by a representative of Great Britain. By this decision Canada was shut off from the seacoast north of 54° 40'. Surveying was at once begun to determine a new boundary, and continued through the years following. In 1910–1911 there was carried on an acute dispute in regard to the coal lands of Alaska, as a result of charges made that large corporations acting under laws passed by Congress were attempting to secure control of valuable coal land. As a result of this agitation, R. L. Ballinger, Secretary of the Treasury, resigned, and his successor, Walter L. Fisher, undertook a thorough investigation of the matter. The syndicates which had attempted to secure possession of the coal lands finally withdrew. At the outbreak of the World War over 3,000 men enrolled for service, a number far beyond the required quota. Ninety-four per cent. of the white population and 1,303 of the natives were enrolled in the Red Cross. Alaska led all other States in its per capita subscription for War Stamps. In 1918 the Government set apart as a National monument the great volcano of Katmai and the surrounding region, comprising over 1,000,000 acres. This volcano erupted violently in 1912 and had smaller eruptions in following years. The National Geographical Society in 1919 carried on explorations in the Katmai regions. Since its creation as an organized Territory, Alaska has steadily advanced in population and industries.
|Copyright, L. L. Poates Eng. Co., 1921|