Gold has played an important role in the development of Alaska. The State of Alaska was purchased from the Russians in 1867 and at first, the federal government did not invest much in their newly acquired land. However, the discovery of gold in many of Alaska’s rivers changed all of that.
Before the first discovery of gold in 1848, the majority of the people living in the Alaskan Territory were Native Americans and soldiers from the Military whose job it was to establish various forts throughout the land. Many small deposits of gold in places like the Cassie Gold District (1872) and Juneau (1880), as well as even bigger strikes such as the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896 brought thousands of people trying to strike it rich. During the Klondike Gold Rush, Alaska’s population nearly doubled. The count totaled up to around 63,000 people. After the rush for gold ended, many people left Alaska, but a lot chose to stay where they were and make a home there. By the time the era of gold in the territory came to an end, the population was 64,356 people.
Many modern-day towns such as Fairbanks and Nome, were established during Alaska’s rush for gold. For instance, the State’s capital, Juneau was founded as a mining town by Richard Harris and Joe Juneau. Other towns were established as trading posts for miners and settles. The majority however, are found in places of big gold strikes.
Towns were not the only things that were built because of the influence of gold. Roads, highways, and the railroad became a necessity. Before the Klondike gold rush, there were only a few; if any accessible roads on which to travel. Some prospectors had to enlist help from the local natives, and bargain with them to let them use their trails. The government decided that roads needed to be built, so they sent soldiers to look for the best routes. The federal government then created a group called the Alaska Road Commission (ARC) who were in charge of the construction and maintenance of future roads. Between the years of 1905 and 1932, the ARC built 1,231 miles of roads, 74 miles of tram road, 1,495 miles of sled roads, 4,732 miles of trails, 329 miles of temporary flagged trails, 26 airfields, and 32 shelter cabins.
The discovery of gold in Alaska also promoted commerce. As more and more people moved up to Alaska, there were more opportunities for using the state’s natural resources. Gold, coal, and oil began a very industrious area of industry. Many shipping businesses and trading companies were established based on these resources. Today Alaska ships to over 25 different countries!
The discovery and mining of gold has really helped shape Alaska. Many of our modern-day cities and towns were built as a result of a gold strike. It is funny to think that one little thing is capable of changing our whole state in extraordinary ways.