Alaska is a state in the United States of America. It protrudes off of Canada at the extreme northwest of North America and is the largest peninsula in the Western Hemisphere. The Arctic Ocean borders it on the north and northwest, on the west are the Bering Strait and Sea, and the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Alaska surround it on the south. Alaska shares an eastern border with Canada which extends for about 1,150 miles along mountains. On January 3, 1959 when Alaska became the 49th state it increased the country's size by almost 20% as it is 591,004 square miles in size.

Beginning in 1700, people in Siberia reported that a large land mass lay east of them. In 1728, the tzar put together an expedition led by Vitus Bering which determined that it was not linked to the Russian mainland, but failed to realize that it was linked to North America due to fog. Bering's second voyage in 1741 sited the peak of Mount St. Elias and men brought back furs to Russia. Sea otter furs from Alaska started the fur trade between Russia, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific Coast during the next century or so.

The Russians waited until 1784 to establish a settlement in Alaska. It was at Three Saints Bay, near what is now Kodiak, and served as Alaska's capital until 1806 when the Russian-American Company moved its headquarters to Sitka in the Alexander Archipelago. Alaska remained governed by the company until 1867, when it was purchased by the United States. After the Crimean War and since the sea otter had been almost hunted to extinction, Russia proposed America buy Alaska in 1867 and the congress approved the measure on October 18, 1867. The possession was governed by military commanders until 1877 and there was little development or industry in the area. When Alaska was made a judicial land district in 1884, courts were established and a school system was put in place. Congress established Alaska as a territory in 1912, and the residents voted in favor of statehood in 1946. It wasn't until 1958 that congress approved the idea and admitted Alaska into the Union in 1959.

Today, Alaska is known for its oil. Oil wasn't discovered in Alaska until the 1950s when drilling in the Kenai Peninsula and offshore in Cook Inlet ran across oil and natural gas. In 1969 the state made almost 1 billion dollars in oil-land revenues and an oil pipeline was proposed to run across the state. Due to protests from various government officials and conservationist groups, construction on the pipeline didn't start until 1974 and it came into operation on June 20, 1977. Thanks to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, oil now flows from Prudhoe Bay on the coast of the Arctic Ocean to the harbor at Valdez where tankers take it to the west coast of the contiguous United States.

Alaska is rimmed on the south by one of the most active earthquake belts on the planet: The Ring of Fire. In the past 100 years, almost 40 earthquakes over 7.25 of the Richter scale have been recorded in Alaska. The most well known was the one that took place on March 27, 1964 which was an 8.4 and affected the northwestern panhandle, the area surrounding Cook Inlet, destroyed parts of Anchorage, and started a tsunami that wiped out Valdez.

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Sources:
http://www.eb.com/
http://www.census.gov/
http://www.state.ak.us/
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