Alaska, is the largest state of the United States of America by area; it is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait. As of 2007, the population was 683,478 with approximately 50% residing along the Anchorage metropolitan areas.
The area that became Alaska was purchased from the Russian Empire after Western Union discontinued construction of its first electric telegraph line which ran from California, up the coast of North America, across the Bering Strait, continuing to Moscow and into the European telegraph network. Despite $3 million in U.S. investment for the Russian-American telegraph expedition, work ceased upon the completion of the competing Transatlantic telegraph cable. The U.S. realized the potential of continuing the line to Moscow and sent Secretary of State William H. Seward to negotiate with the Russian Ambassador to fund the remaining phases of the telegraph line. Russia did not see the potential in funding, so Alaska was offered in exchange for the value of the Russian-American telegraph. The Russians feared that if they did not sell Russian North America, it would be taken from them by the westward expansion of the United States and Canada. They tried to play one potential purchaser off against the other to start a bidding war, but this was largely unsuccessful.
The U.S. Senate approved the purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867, for $7.2 million at 2 cents per acre, about 5 cents per hectare. When adjusted for inflation, the total sum paid equates to approximately $111 million in today's dollars. The land went through several administrative changes before becoming an organized territory on May 11, 1912 and the 49th state of the U.S. on January 3, 1959. The name "Alaska" was already introduced in the Russian colonial time, when it was only used for the peninsula and is derived from the Aleut alaxsxaq, meaning "the mainland", or more literally, "the object towards which the action of the sea is directed." It is also known as Alyeska, the "great land", an Aleut word derived from the same root.
Alaska is one of two U.S. states not bordered by another state, Hawaii being the other. Alaska has more coastline than all the other U.S. states combined. It is the only non-contiguous U.S. state on continental North America; about 500 miles (800 km) of British Columbia (Canada) separate Alaska from Washington state. Alaska is thus an exclave of the United States. It is technically part of the continental U.S., but is often not included in colloquial use; Alaska is not part of the contiguous U.S., often called "the Lower 48". Juneau, Alaska's capital city, though located on the mainland of the North American continent, is inaccessible by land—no roads connect Juneau to the rest of the North American highway system.
The state is bordered by the Yukon Territory and British Columbia, Canada, to the east, the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean to the south, the Bering Sea, Bering Strait, and Chukchi Sea to the west and the Arctic Ocean to the north. Alaska's territorial waters touch Russia's territorial waters in the Bering Strait, though the Russian and Alaskan islands are almost 3 miles (4.8 km) apart.
Alaska is the largest state in the United States in land area at 570,380 square miles, more than twice as large as Texas, the next largest state. Geologists have identified Alaska as part of Wrangellia, a large region
consisting of multiple states and Canadian provinces in the Pacific Northwest which is actively undergoing continent building. It is larger than all but 18 sovereign countries.
It is also larger than the combined area of the 23 smallest U.S. States and Districts: Washington DC, Rhode Island, Delaware, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, West Virginia, South Carolina, Maine, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and North Carolina.
Also, compared with territory outside the United States, Alaska is larger than Sweden, Norway, Finland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom combined.
The northeast corner of Alaska is dominated by the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which covers 19,049,236 acres. Much of the northwest is covered by the larger National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska, which covers around 23,000,000 acres. The Arctic is Alaska's most remote wilderness. A location in the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska is 120 miles (190 km) from any town or village, the geographic point most remote from permanent habitation on the US mainland. The Rat Islands region in the Western Aleutians is more than 200 miles from the tiny settlements of Attu and Adak, and may be the loneliest place in the United States. In 1971 the U.S. exploded an atomic bomb underground here, on Amchitka Island.
With its myriad islands, Alaska has nearly 34,000 miles of tidal shoreline. The Aleutian Islands chain extends west from the southern tip of the Alaska Peninsula. Many active volcanoes are found in the Aleutians. Unimak Island, for example, is home to Mount Shishaldin, which is an occasionally smoldering volcano that rises to 10,000 feet above the North Pacific. It is the most perfect volcanic cone on Earth, even more symmetrical than Japan's Mount Fuji. The chain of volcanoes extends to Mount Spurr, west of Anchorage on the mainland.
One of North America's largest tides occurs in Turnagain Arm, just south of Anchorage — tidal differences can be more than 35 feet. (Many sources say Turnagain has the second-greatest tides in North America, but several areas in Canada have larger tides.)
Alaska has more than 3 million lakes<needs to be checked>. Marshlands and wetland permafrost cover 188,320 square miles (mostly in northern, western and southwest flatlands). Frozen water, in the form of glacier ice, covers some 16,000 square miles of land and 1,200 square miles of tidal zone. The Bering Glacier complex near the southeastern border with Yukon, Canada, covers 2,250 square miles alone.
The International Date Line jogs west of 180° to keep the whole state, and thus the entire North American continent, within the same legal day.
According to an October 1998 report by the United States Bureau of Land Management, approximately 65% of Alaska is owned and managed by the U.S. federal government as public lands, including a multitude of national forests, national parks, and national wildlife refuges. Of these, the Bureau of Land Management manages 87 million acres (350,000 km²), or 23.8% of the state. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. It is the World's largest wildlife Refuge, comprising 16 million acres (65,000 km2).
Of the remaining land area, the State of Alaska owns 101 million acres (410,000 km2); another 44 million acres (180,000 km2) are owned by 13 regional and dozens of local Native corporations created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Thus, indirectly, the 84,000 Eskimo (Inuit), Aleut and American Indian inhabitants of Alaska own one-ninth of the state. Various private interests own the remaining land, totaling about 1% of the state.
Alaska is administratively divided into "boroughs", as opposed to "counties" or "parishes." The function is the same, but whereas some states use a three-tiered system of decentralization—state/county/township—most of Alaska uses only two tiers—state/borough. Owing to the low population density, most of the land is located in the Unorganized Borough which, as the name implies, has no intermediate borough government of its own, but is administered directly by the state government. Currently (2000 census) 57.71% of Alaska's area has this status, with 13.05% of the population. For statistical purposes the United States Census Bureau divides this territory into census areas. Anchorage merged the city government with the Greater Anchorage Area Borough in 1971 to form the Municipality of Anchorage, containing the city proper and the bedroom communities of Eagle River, Chugiak, Peters Creek, Girdwood, Bird, and Indian. Fairbanks has a separate borough (the Fairbanks North Star Borough) and municipality (the City of Fairbanks).
Alaska is also home of the Mount McKinley mountain range which is the largest mountain range in the United States.