Anchorage History

Anchorage is located in Southcentral Alaska. To the east the Chugach Mountains serve as the backdrop for the city’s magnificent skyline. To the west are the expansive, steel-colored waters of Cook Inlet, named after the explorer Captain James Cook who sailed into the area in 1778. In 1915 row upon row of tents popped up in the Ship Creek area as the construction of Alaska’s railroad got under way. Soon plank sidewalks were added, storefronts went up, and the town grew. Anchorage was incorporated as a city in 1920, with its first bank robbery occurring six months after incorporation. The number of people living in Anchorage by 1929 had grown to 2,736.

Though steadily growing, Anchorage remained a relatively small frontier town until the beginning of World War II. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Anchorage found itself on the front lines of the conflict. Airfields, roads, and other infrastructure were constructed during the war. After WWII, the infrastructure was left behind, creating the framework for Anchorage’s development. During the war, Anchorage’s population exploded from around 8,000 to more than 43,000. Anchorage leaders wrestled with accommodating the influx and worked to improve water, sewer, and utility systems. Another benefit after WWII was the boom of aviation that spread throughout Alaska. Along with the construction of many airfields during the war, the military equipped its pilots with the finest in electronic equipment and devices for flying safely. These enhanced facilities made life easier for the bush pilots who, beginning in the 1920s, had become a critical part of life in Alaska.

In 1951, Anchorage International Airport was completed. With its strategic location, Alaska became the air crossroads of the world after new air routes were introduced between the North Pacific and Asia. The airport was renamed Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in 2000 after Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. Oil was discovered on the Kenai Peninsula in 1957. Seventeen oil companies set up headquarters in Anchorage and spent more than $30 million dollars on exploration.


On Jan. 3, 1959, Congress voted Alaska into statehood.

Anchorage again experienced tremendous change when the earth cracked open on Good Friday, March 27, 1964. The strongest earthquake ever to hit North America, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, ripped through Anchorage, leaving death, despair, and destruction in its wake. Recovery was phenomenal. In Anchorage’s pioneering style, the city was rebuilt with lightning speed.

In 1968, oil was discovered on the Arctic Slope, north of the Brooks Mountain Range. As lease sales were finalized, the mood was jubilant. There was a lot of oil, but transporting it from the North Slope was a problem. The Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) was proposed in 1969. It met with tremendous opposition from environmentalists and other groups. Also in 1968, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was finalized, bringing the issue of land rights to closure. Twelve native corporations were organized along geographical boundaries. A 13th corporation was formed for those Alaska Natives living outside of the state.

In May of 1972, Congress granted authorization for construction of the oil pipeline. Construction began in 1974, with oil flowing from the North Slope to the ice-free port of Valdez in 1977. Alaska has never been the same since.The price of a home in Anchorage quadrupled. There were no apartments for rent. The city was bursting at the seams. New construction spread like wildfire; new homes were erected, businesses expanded, and Anchorage grew. More attention was given to the development of culture and the arts. The George M. Sullivan Arena, William A. Egan Civic & Convention Center, and Alaska Center for the Performing Arts were built.

Health was also a concern. Anchorage’s hospitals expanded services, bringing the high technology of the fast-moving medical industry to Alaska and dramatically improving the quality of health care.

Today, Anchorage is a thriving city with more than 300,000 residents. In 2002, it was named an All-America City by the National Civic League.