As a city, Anchorage did not develop until relatively recently in American history. In fact, it was not incorporated until 1923. People had been living in Anchorage for many years before this, however. Like most of America, the area around Anchorage, Alaska was first populated as a trading post, due to the coastal waterways surrounding Anchorage. It was first populated as Captain Cook in 1778 was looking for the elusive Northwest Passage.
The land upon which Anchorage stands was discovered on Captain Cook’s third attempt to find the Northwest Passage, and one of the arms of the inlet he mistook as a river, which he named River Turnagain. Later, George Vancouver renamed the inlet Turnagain Arm (Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, 2005). The Russians also heavily explored the area and setup trading posts throughout the area. The second factor for the location of Anchorage is the discovery of gold. In 1888, gold was discovered in the region, causing the Alaskan Gold Rush and bringing thousands of Americans to the area to find their fame and fortune.
One of the most famous gold rush settlements was James Girdwood’s stake 40 miles south of Anchorage at the Crow Creek Mine. In 1912, Alaska became an official territory of the United States. The third reason for the present day location of Anchorage was the construction of the Alaskan Railroad. Anchorage was founded when the United States Congress commissioned the first railroad funded by the government and constructed across the Alaskan lands. In 1915 the route was established, and 2000 Americans flooded to the Ship Creek Valley to begin work on the railroad.
On July 9, 1915 president Woodrow Wilson initiated the “Great Anchorage Lot Sale” where the first 600 plots of land in Anchorage were sold. Businesses spread along 4th avenue, and a school was built, thus creating the first metropolitan area of Anchorage (Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, 2005). In 1923, the Alaskan railway was finished, from Seward to Fairbanks, passing through Anchorage. The fourth reason Anchorage stands where it does today is because of the event of WWII and the threat of the Japanese and Russians.
Anchorage and Alaska are strategically located close to Russia and Japan. In 1947 the government begins development of the Fort Richardson Army Post and the Elmendorf Air Force Base. During WWII, Alaska experienced a sharp growth in infrastructure and population during those years. Finally, the discovery of oil in Alaska in 1968 caused the most recent boom in Anchorage’s growth. In 1974 construction began on the trans-Alaska pipeline system, resulting in a modern day boom as the construction and engineering companies setup headquarters in Anchorage. Regional Context
Anchorage is located in Southeast Alaska (see map below). It is bordered by the Chugach Mountains and glaciers to the east, the west and northwest by branches of Cook’s Inlet (the farthest north the Pacific Ocean reaches), Mount McKinley to the North, and the Kenai Peninsula to the south. There are over 40 active volcanoes to the Southwest of Anchorage, and the entire area is mountainous. In fact, in 1990, Mount Redoubt erupted, covering Anchorage in a 2 inch layer of volcanic ash (Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, 2005). Overall, the area of Anchorage is larger than Rhode Island.