Do you know what the biggest state (by area) in the United States is? If you guessed Alaska, you’re right!
Located in the far northwest corner of North America — and separated from the “lower 48” states by about 500 miles of British Columbia, Canada — Alaska is more than twice the size of Texas, the next largest state.
At a whopping 586,412 square miles, Alaska would rank as the 19th largest country in the world if it were a country instead of a state. If you count its territorial waters, Alaska is larger than the next three largest states combined (Texas, California and Montana). It’s also larger than the 22 smallest states combined.
Despite all of that land area, Alaska is also the least densely populated state. In total, a little more than 700,000 people call Alaska home. At least 18 cities in the United States have larger populations than the entire state of Alaska!
About half of the residents of Alaska live in the Anchorage, Alaska, metropolitan area. The cold arctic conditions of much of Alaska prevent it from attracting more residents.
If you’re wondering how Alaska became a state, you might be surprised to learn that the United States actually purchased Alaska from Russia. In 1867, Secretary of State William H. Seward negotiated with Russia to purchase Alaska for $7.2 million (about $113 million in today’s dollars). That’s about two cents per acre.
Pretty good deal, right? Believe it or not, some people at the time didn’t think it was such a great deal.
Although the deal has become known as the “Alaska Purchase,” some politicians at the time called it “Seward’s folly.” They believed Seward was silly for spending so much money on what they believed to be an icy wasteland.
As it turns out, though, the value of the Alaska Purchase was many times greater than what the United States paid for it. In addition to natural beauty and wildlife, Alaska turned out to be rich in natural resources, such as gold, copper and oil.
It also proved to have a strategic location close to Russia, which the United States kept a close eye on during the Cold War.
Even though the United States took possession of Alaska in 1867, it did not become a state right away. It started out as the Department of Alaska before becoming the District of Alaska and eventually, in 1912, the Alaska Territory. Finally, on January 3, 1959, Alaska became the 49th state.
If you ever want to take a tour of Alaska, be sure to set aside plenty of time. There’s a lot to cover!
You also might want a boat or skis. Alaska is home to more than 3 million lakes. It’s also home to more than 100,000 glaciers, which is about half of the glaciers in the world!