Yukon Nuggets

1898 Yukon Nuggets

Alaska Statehood - 50 years ago


On January 3rd, 1959, Alaska officially became the 49th state in the Union. Like the continuing quest for Yukon autonomy, the road to Alaskan statehood had been long and winding. The United States bought Alaska from the Russians in 1867 for 7.2 million dollars.

Alaska came into international prominence in 1898 when news of the Klondike gold strike flashed around the world. Of the thousands of gold seekers who trekked to the Yukon gold fields, most were American and almost all thought they were going to Alaska. Newspaper coverage of the day did little to dissuade the notion.

World War II brought further attention to Alaska when the U.S. decided it needed an all-weather land link to its far-off territory - a link that could only be made with a roadway through Canada. Thus, the Alaska Highway was built in short order.

After the war, the Alaskan population fell to less than one hundred thousand, but soon the "Cold War" with Russia resulted in yet another military buildup. The war years and the post-war troubles with the Russians irrevocably changed Alaska.

Southern newspapers soon began to write of Alaska as a "feudal barony" where the absentee-owned corporations left next to nothing behind in the form of social and economic benefits–except a "looted land." The anti-statehood faction in Alaska held a strong grip and might have squelched the quest for statehood were it not for two men - Governor Ernest Gruening and Territorial delegate Bob Bartlett.

Both argued against the lack of decent roads, airfields, hospitals, and dependable transportation at reasonable cost. They pointed out that the issue of aboriginal rights had not been settled. Therefore, homesteaders were not legally able to buy land from the federal government. The quest for statehood was on in ernest.

Alaska residents sent Christmas cards to friends in "the southern 48" which urged: "Make Alaskans’ future bright, Ask your Senator for statehood, And start the New Year right." After six days of debate, on June 30th, 1958, the United States Senate voted 64-20 to make Alaska the 49th state. The Anchorage Times summed up the news with the banner headline in letters six-and-a-half inches high. The newspaper proclaimed: "WE'RE IN."

In Skagway, residents paraded with buttons that read "Bigger than Texas, better than California--God's Country." The creation of the state of Alaska became official on January 3rd, 1959, when a ratification vote attracted the largest voter turnout in the history of the territory and won by a margin of five-to-one for statehood.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.