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History of Anchorage


Alaska is located on the north western region of North America lying west of Canada, the Gulf of Alaska and Pacific Ocean to the south and in the northern part lays the Bering Sea, Bering Strait, and the Arctic Ocean.  Anchorage is located in the south central region of Alaska with the Turnagain Arm and the Knik Arm surrounding the two coastal sides.  Before Anchorage was known as the largest city in Alaska, it was bought from Russia by the United States in 1867.  It was not actually recognized by the United States until 1912 when it became a new territory.  The U.S. Post Office Department made Anchorage the official name coming from an old dry-docked steamship called Berth.  The city at this time was carefully planned out to be a railroad construction port for the Alaskan railroad.  Town lots went up for sale for the first time on July 9th in 1915.  It was not for five more years until Anchorage was officially established a city on November 20, 1920 ("Anchorage Alaska).


After World War I, Anchorage became known as the "Air Cross Roads of the World," connecting Asia and the United States main lands.  Merrill Field replaced the original "Park Strip" landing field in 1930.  Merrill Field only had a beacon and a landing tower.  Only a few years later Merrill Field became one of the busiest centers of civilian aircraft activity in the United States, a distinction which it still holds true today (Historical Highlights).  While being an important city for air transportation it also became a major defense center once Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson were constructed.  The population shot from 4,229 to 30,060 from 1939 to 1950.  Along with the population increase was a direct increase in the cost of living and the crime rate ("Anchorage, Alaska").

The city went through major development in the 1950's.  The first traffic lights were put in place and two years later mail delivery began.  Just like any city with an increasing population there was an increased demand for transportation routes and more health facilities.  The Seward Highway was constructed and ready for use in 1951 and the Alaska Native Medical Center opened in 1953.  These three eruptions were not the only destructions Anchorage has seen.  The Good Friday Earthquake in 1964 killed 131 people across south central Alaska.  This quake was the largest recorded in United States history with a 9.2 on the Richter scale.  Because of the fear of future earthquakes, Anchorage's tallest buildings are only 21 stories high.  Anchorage was awarded the "All-American City" title first in 1956 and again in 1965 and 1984.  This title was awarded for its amazing earthquake restoration efforts.  In 1975 the Bicentennial Park was created in Southeast Anchorage including 4,000 plus acres in the area.

Expanding Population

The increase in Anchorage's population has been because of many different reasons.  Just like any other city Anchorage continues to grow rapidly.  In the 1920's Anchorage's economy focused around the railroads.  As the city experienced dramatically increasing growth between the 1930's and the 1950's, air transportation and the military became more important.

"The influx of defense spending during the 1950's had a beneficial effect on both Anchorage's population and business community.  Between 1940 and 1951, Anchorage's population expanded exponentially from 3,000 to 47,000, and so did the cost of living.  The long-awaited completion of the road between Seward and Anchorage along the Turnagain Arm was completed in the early 1950's by the Alaska Road Commission, opening the Kenai Peninsula to motor vehicle traffic.  The development of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields in northern Alaska and the building of the trans-Alaska pipeline system during the 1970's proved a great boom to the Anchorage economy.  Since Anchorage had already benefited from the 1957 discovery of oil at the Swanson Rive field in the Kenai Peninsula, it was a natural choice for the corporate headquarters of the large oil concerns involved in operating North Slope fields and the TAPS system.  The oil industry contributed to Anchorage's growth in the seventies and eighties both economically, by providing skilled employment opportunities for thousands, and culturally, by helping to fund many civic and cultural endeavors" (Historical Highlights").

Anchorage did not stop growing in the eighties; this was a major time of growth focusing on its infrastructure and the quality of life.  The state treasury used nearly a billion dollars from the flood of North slope oil revenue for construction in the Anchorage area.  Features for the people like a new library, civic center, performing arts center, and sports arena were built in this time.  Old parks were rejuvenated and new parks were established; now there are over 180.  Along with fixing the parks, a system of trails totaling 259 miles long was created for runners, bikers, and skiers.  Maintaining the beautiful city of Anchorage has raised the area as a tourist attraction.  Ski resorts, Hiltop Ski Area, Alyeska Ski Resort, and Alpenglow Ski Area have attracted more tourism and more reason for others to reside there.  Today tourism and recreational activities have become the foundation of Anchorage's modern economy ("Historical Highlights").

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