Economic development in Alaska began with the American purchase in 1867. Prior to this, Alaska was owned by Russia and controlled by an Russian-American fur trading company. Its name suggests a fairly specific interest.
It was only after "Seward"s Folly" that Alaska's short but rich economic history began with a central theme, "Resource Development." Only one need fly around the state in a small airplane to realize how limited
the exploration has been and thus become very excited about the unlimited possibilities which exists to serve man kinds needs.
The Russian's had not shown interest in mining though they did mine some coal from the Kenai Peninsula near Seldovia. It is interesting that they mined the coal mainly for heating purposes. There was more interest by the American's than the Russian's in mining coal. The American's mined under contracts with the Russian's to supply coal for steam engines that was the popular source of power of that era.
The Russian-American fur trading company made only one attempt to find gold in commercial quantities. They financed a Russian mining engineer, "Peter Doroshin," with the equivalent of one year's backing. He was very frugal and stretched the money for a two-year effort. (I wonder if there had been more effort with five years of good steady backing, what would have happened to Alaska?) He didn't do too badly for the effort he put into it. He found gold at Anchor Point, really fine gold, that you find on a beach. In the second year he traveled up what is now the Kenai river and found more gold in a smaller tributary river that flows into the Kenai River. It is now the Russian River, named in honor of that expedition. Some coarser gold was found but still not of commercial quantities. If he had more backing, I'm sure he would have crossed Turnigan pass. If he had, it is very unlikely that the Russian's would have sold Alaska. However in 1867 the United States bought Alaska for 7.2 million. In that same year the first mining claims were staked in Alaska. When the United States purchased Alaska it came under the federal mining laws, the same laws that are in effect today.
Presently, the mining laws are under heavy attack, especially by the Socialist interests in our country. They want to eliminate the small operator and nationalize the mines, for more money to the government and bigger company ownership. Fortunately our mining laws are probably the most democratic laws still on the books today. They are based on equal opportunity for all seekers. For the poor man if he finds good ground and stakes it first, it's his claim. Most of the finds that you read about even today were first found and staked by a small operator. Later the big outfits move in and buy them out. When the price is right, everyone benefits. The ripple effect helps the economy of the entire State.
In 1867, the first claims were staked in Alaska, not for gold but for copper. Near the south end of Prince of Wales Island. It was an outcrop, it was high-grade and plentiful, you could see it, the cycle was hot, for thirty years the area was mined.
The first claims staked for gold were in 1870. They were staked in Southeastern Alaska, on Powers Creek, in the Sundumn District, about halfway between Juneau and Petersburg on the mainland. I'll back up a bit and tie that into history.
The start of mining in the western United States was the California gold rush of 1848-1849. It was considered the turning point and revival of mining in the world. Much of the mining technology is traced back to the California gold rush. The California gold rush took place for good reason. Not just for the discovery of gold, but the more compelling reason was that there was a worldwide depression. When there is a depression, the
ambitious people, the young people and some older people who never give up, try to go someplace where they have an opportunity to make a living.
In California, gold was "at the moment!" There was a worldwide stampede to California. There were some who learned how to prospect in California but did not find gold. They went back home and struck it rich. One prospector went back to Australia and discovered the Bendigo district. The first major gold find in Australia. Another went to South Africa, and discovered the "Witswader Rahn," a ridge of auriferous rock 62 miles long and 23 miles wide. It is the greatest hard rock mining district in the world today. It produces almost 1,000 tons of gold per year. If South Africans were not producing gold the price of gold prices would go through the ceiling!
After the California Stampede, there were other stampedes. Prospectors migrated north and found gold on the beaches of Oregon. Then gold was found in eastern Washington, Idaho and Montana. Most of those prospectors worked stream and river bottoms, very much the same as Alaska miners of today. Prospecting with a pick and shovel, a gold pan, a pair of hip boots, and determination. When gold is found under those conditions, it is generally shallow, with plenty of water and easy to wash.
Sometimes gold was found and water for washing and sluicing ran out in mid-summer leaving the miner with a nearly impossible task of recovering any gold until nature supplied more water. But prospectors were very clever in finding ways to have enough water for their operation.
Some would stretch a piece of burlap cloth across a stream in the fall of the year. They would leave a small amount of the bottom of the burlap in the water, the rest would be above the water. The burlap worked like a wick and it would be wet about an inch above the water. When it would start to freeze it would form a one inch dam of ice. The water would then freeze upstream until the water backed up enough to over flow the dam, which would make the burlap wet again and form another dam, mother nature would freeze that water until it backed up enough to over flow the second dam then another cycle and another cycle and another cycle ect. ect. ect. Until ice was formed to the top of the burlap. then more burlap was added until a small glacier was formed. The next summer, as the glacier slowly melted they generally had enough water reserves to work their ground for the entire season.
Another ingenious method of washing the overburden off mineral zones when only a small stream existed was to build a dam across the stream, so as to form a small pond of water. A gate was installed in the dam and hinged at the top. Next a thirty foot pole was cut and a cradle for the pole to set in was installed about fifteen feet in front of the awning type gate. The pole was then placed with the big-end against the gate holding it shut by its own weight. Next an empty barrel was hung on the small end of the pole. A one inch hole was drilled near the top of the gate. A hose was inserted in the hole and ran to the other end of the pole and inserted into the hanging empty barrel. The water would back up in the pond until it reached the level of the hole. Water would then flow down the hose and fill the barrel making it heavy enough to lift the heavier end of the pole up, there-by tripping and opening the gate. The rushing water washed the overburden away until the pond was empty. A small hole in the bottom of the barrel soon leaked enough water to empty the barrel. The large end of the pole would then be heavy enough to come down teeter-toter fashion, close the gate and another cycle began.
In those days gold was ready money and usually not cost prohibitive to retrieve. The real driving force, in the early days, was how it compared to wages. That will be the driving force again if we ever have another world wide stampede. At the time of the California stampede and for several years after, wages were one or two dollars a day. Gold was worth $20.67 an ounce. If you found a little gold, a few hundred dollars worth was considered a small stake and a few thousand dollars was a large and valuable claim.
There was very little coinage in the United States at that time and gold was used for most purchases. That is why, even after all the tourists have bought most of the gold scales as antiques, there are still lots of scales left here in Alaska. I heard of one mining operation who was re-working an old claim that found a complete set of scale weights in their sluice box.
After those stampedes, the next major stampede was in Canada, on the Fraser River. The Fraser stampede was at the head-waters of the Fraser River, in the Caribou country. There were so many Americans in what is now British Columbia, that the Hudson Bay superintendent became very alarmed. These were quite a rowdy bunch to say the least. He worried that the British would never be able to wrest Western Canada away from the Americans. He wrote a letter to the British Admiralty voicing his concerns. The British Admiralty promptly dispatched a fleet commanded by Admiral Vancouver. The fleet showed up just in time to prevent a war. The tension was cooled and order restored. The city of Vancouver and Vancouver Island were named in his honor.
After the Fraser River stampede, the next major strike was at the head-waters of the Stikine River, the Cassiar. The jumping off place for the Cassiar stampede was Wrangell, Alaska. A group of Iowa farm boys decided to join that stampede in the fall of the year. They built shallow draft boats and used long poles to push their boats. These fellows pushed their way up the Stikine River for hundreds of miles, until snow and ice started to form on the river. Their supplies dwindling, they turned around and poled their way back to the coast. They prospected there and discovered gold on Powers Creek in the Sumdum District. They took out over $10,000 worth of gold the first winter, which was considered a sizeable amount of money. That was considered the first successful commercial gold strike in Alaska.
The next year two hard-rock mines were discovered. One in Billie Basin near Sitka and the other on Gravina Island across from Ketchikan. The find near Ketchikan was made by a little known German mining engineer named George Philz. Although he is almost totally forgotten, he played an important part in early Alaskan history. He had graduated in 1850 from the Royal School of Mines in Fiburg Germany. After graduation he was assigned to work in the coal mines in Germany. He did not like that work, because in order to get a promotion, others had to die or retire. He, being an ambitious fellow , abandoned everything, resigned his job and joined the gold stampede. When he landed in San Francisco he didn't buy a pick and shovel and go prospecting. He was an educated man and became an assayer for the United States Mint. A nice comfortable job, but he had caught the gold fever. When he looked around California, he didn't think opportunity was big enough, which was surprising, but he knew about geology. He figured the coastal corrugation that flowed thru Canada and on north, that Alaska must have lots of minerals and gold. He wrote to the New York fur trading interests as well as the New England Financial interests trying to get information about Alaska. His letters were never answered. As it turned out these east coast interests were trying to buy Alaska. The John Jacob Astor syndicate offered the Czar of Russia $5.5 million dollars which the Czar thought was a satisfactory and reasonable price but wanted to sell it to a government rather than allow it to be in private ownership.
Philz finally met someone who had been to Alaska. A common seaman who had worked on a whaling ship. The seaman was an amateur prospector and when the whaling ship had pulled into Gravina Island for fresh water, he looked around and found some quartz with gold traces. When he returned to San Francisco he showed the samples to George Philz and told him where he had found them. Philz quit his job and headed to Alaska. In 1871 he started a hard rock gold stamp mill on Gravina Island. The gold in quartz occurs in small specks. You have to crush the rock to recover it. In those days the principal source of power was water. A stream was found and a large water wheel was made, which would turn an axle that was rigged to lift columns of steel. These were dropped on the quartz, crushing it. Then with water you would wash the material to further separate the gold from the quartz. They would then pass the material thru a screen to a mercury coated copper plate to catch the gold. This was called "amalgamation". Gold sticks to mercury the same way flies stick to fly-paper. This "amalgam" is half gold and half mercury. The mercury is then separated leaving just gold.
Later Philz moved to Sitka. Sitka was the Russian-American Capital and was also the first Capital of Alaska. It was the center of not only government but also trade and commerce. Philz knew the mining business and knew when you work a mineral deposit, no matter how big it is, it will someday be depleted, sometimes suddenly. Although some big corporate mines in southwestern United States have been operating for over 70 years. In Germany in the "copper belt", there are mines that have operated more than 400 years. However, Philz thought the smart thing to do after a mine was in operation was to sell out and go look for another deposit.
In those days it was a very simple arrangement, you simply grubstaked prospectors. That is almost a thing of the past now, but in those days making a living was a lot tougher. Most prospectors were glad to go out for his food, his keep and his transportation. If he found something he generally got a 50 percent interest in the find. Presently if some one offered a prospector food for going out and a 50 percent interest in any thing that found, they would laugh at the offer. But if they would include a bulldozer, well maybe ...
Philz was grubstaking prospectors all over the place and syndicating with his rich friends. One day it dawned on him that even though they were grubstaking prospectors they were still missing out because the principle people in Southeastern Alaska were Tlinget Indians, who had no interest in prospecting. There main interest was in fishing. At that time most of the Tlinget's used animal skins for a bed roll. Any one who had a wool blanket for bedding was considered prestigious. They all looked forward to the day when they when they would own a wool blanket. Philz decided he would give some incentive for them to prospect. He posted a reward and let it be known that anybody that brought information that led to a good mineral or gold find, he would give them 100 Hudson Bay wool blankets. Those blankets were the best and most expensive then as well as in present times. This was before they made sleeping bags. This, to them, was truly a measurement of wealth.
One of the Chiefs of the Auke Indians had a fishing camp on what is now called Douglas Island. From Juneau you cross the bridge over Gastineau channel, turn right to the first stream, called Kowed creek. This is where he set up his fish camp. Occasionally he would Paddle his canoe across the channel to the Juneau side. He found some quartz that had some yellow specks in it. He had heard about the 100 blanket offer. The blankets were so important to him that he paddled all the way to Sitka to show Philz his samples. Philz was duly impressed and rounded up two prospectors, a fellow named Richard Harris and Joe Juneau, set them up with money for a grubstake and told them to go back with this Indian Chief and check out his find. The story is that the two drank up the grubstake money and never left town. Philz found out about them, bought more supplies for a second time and sent them on their way again. This time they found the stream and staked the claim. The Indian got his blankets. That is how Juneau Alaska got on the map, named after the prospector Joe Juneau in 1880. Juneau was the first placer mining camp in Alaska where they washed gold from the gravel beds of a stream. You can still go to Juneau, have a picnic in the park and pan for gold on that creek.
Juneau eventually became a hard-rock gold camp. There are two large mines there. The first one, "The Alaska Treadwell" gold mine on Douglas Island is how the town of "Douglas" came about. The second mine to start operation's was the Alaska Juneau Gold Mine, which in its day was the largest "gold leaf" gold mine in the world. As a result of all this activity Juneau soon became a city. It was an excellent place to work, with lots of jobs. Under ground mining operations are almost always short of help. It was an easy place to get a job, also a good place to get backing and a syndicate to cover prospecting trips.
An interesting story is how the Capital went from Sitka to Juneau. At that time the Governor of Alaska was appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. The man who was appointed Governor of Alaska was a mining engineer and all of his interest's were in Juneau. He soon became tired of traveling on a boat between Sitka and Juneau. He then wrote a letter to the Secretary of Interior and stated that unless the Secretary objected, he was going to move the Capital to Juneau, he explained that all his business interest's were in Juneau and that he was tired of traveling back and forth. He went on to explain that he had only one full time paid employee, who had agreed to move, and also stated that he had a part time secretary, and if the government couldn't afford it he would pay her himself and furnish her a room in a building he owned in Juneau, as well as pay for her moving expenses. Juneau became the new Capital of Alaska.
Prospectors out of Juneau found the small, but still productive, Porcupine gold district near Haines Alaska. They had a formidable string of mountains to cross, however that didn't stop them, they just changed their ways. They syndicated, formed an exploration company and started packing their supplies over the passes to the interior of Alaska. They didn't go out and come back at the end of the summer. Most were gone for several years at a time. After time more and more of these prospectors started trickling back over the Chilkoot trail and the White Pass with "Pokes full of gold". The word soon spread and more and more prospectors started packing over the pass to the interior of Alaska. Long before the Klondike, these fellows had poured down the river systems, found gold in the Yukon, along the Yukon River and its tributaries.
The town of "Circle" was the first major town in the interior of Alaska. There were almost five hundred miners there at one time. It was one of these stream gravel and river bottom prospectors, who made the first find in the Klondike. His name was Richard Harris. He made a good find by the standard of the day and found Quartz Creek. He mined $50,000 to $100,000 a year, a lot of money in those times. But it wasn't a bonanza strike as far as the Klondike goes. While he was mining he invited another fellow to examine his diggings. The fellows name was George Carmack. He went up to the diggings, had a very pleasant day but stayed a little too long. Time doesn't really matter in interior Alaska in the summer as it's daylight most of the time. It was getting late and George decided to take a short cut back to his camp. The camp was on the Klondike River. He went over the hill and down the side of the next creek. The mosquitoes were bad and as he was charging down the creek all sweaty with mosquitoes after him he stopped for a drink of water. He put his lips in the creek and drank his fill. When he started to get up he noticed where his hand was and saw a shining gold nugget. He looked around and there were more nuggets. He staked a claim. The name of the creek was "Eldorado".
Carmack went on to become a multi-millionaire. He died in Vancouver, British Columbia in 1924. Harrison didn't even know about the find in time to stake a good claim. However, he ended up with a pension from the Canadian government for making the first find in that drainage.
Word spread like wildfire and most of the miners in Circle abandoned their diggings and rushed to Eldorado Creek to stake a claim. The year was 1896. Due to transportation problems, it was two years before they shipped their gold to the States. There were three groups of miners that chartered boats and went to the States with their gold. One group went to Seattle , another to Portland, and the other to San Francisco. That was the major turning point in the Yukon and Alaskan history.
Fifty thousand people rushed north. That started the Klondike stampede. (Some what like in the 1970's and the pipeline stampede.)
Two years after the Klondike, gold was discovered in Nome. Nome was founded in 1898 by one of the most unlikely prospecting combinations ever put together. Two reindeer herders grubstaked by a missionary. They found Anvic creek, one of the richest finds ever made in the north. They mined gold for two years before they were able to ship it out. Again transportation problems, they couldn't get a boat for two years. But right on the heels of the Klondike stampede , they shipped another ton of gold to Seattle and started the Nome Stampede. Thirty thousand people rushed to Nome in the fall of the year 1900. They were stuck there until the ice broke up in the spring and boats could come back in. Jack London was one of the famous writers of that period and he told the story. The first boat to land in the spring was a boat-load of whisky. There were 30,000 people setting on the beech freezing and there had been only one find, Anvik creek.
There are no trees in Nome. The only wood you have for heat is drift wood.
Every few years the Yukon river floods and dumps trees into Norton Sound. the wind blows some of it on the beaches. The people had to rely on this driftwood for firewood. On top of that the United States government sent a Judge to Nome to maintain order, when they heard of the stampede. However the Judge was crooked and the Marshall was worse. The Judge ended up getting disbarred and they put the Marshall in jail. There was no law governing mining in that area. It was the custom of the miners when there was no law, to make up their own. In Nome 50 years of mining experience made up the rowdiest bunch of prospectors ever to assemble in one area. They couldn't agree on any thing. The only thing they could agree on was that a claim was as far as you could reach with a number 2 shovel. If you wanted the same claim the next day you had to be there first in the morning. Daily, there were murders, robberies, claim jumping, and about ever crime you could think of. It was pretty wild. Every crime you could think of happened daily. The heyday of that mining lasted two years. A miner could take fifty to a hundred dollars worth of gold a day off the beach, in those days that was good money. With the price of gold being $20.67 ounce, that was an awfully rich beach. There were many an enterprising grandfather who saved his poke, went back home, bought the best business in town and made his fortune. There were two major Universities started in the state's as well a number endowed elsewhere, including Guggenhiem Hall, Amherst University, and many Churches. Of course the missionaries who backed the prospectors contributed most for those.
Two years after Nome, Fairbanks was struck. Fairbanks wasfounded in 1902 by the old traditional method. One lone prospector, with a pick and shovel, a slab of bacon, beans, a rifle and a bed roll. His name was Felix Pedro. He had walked 180 miles from Circle, Alaska and struck a prospect hole on what today is named Pedro creek, about 30 miles north of Fairbanks. The story goes that when he made his find he was totally out of food, so he climbed a nearby hill to see if he could find any signs of habitation. This particular hill is about 4,000 feet high and was later named Pedro Dome in his honor. He looked down from his view point and saw smoke coming from a river. He walked there to investigate and found the smoke was coming from a river steamer that had run aground on the Chena River.
Elbridge Truman Barnette, had planned to establish a trading post at Tanacross, the half way point on the Valdez-to-Eagle trail. But the quick currents and the shallow depths of the Tanana River prevented the steamer from going beyond the mouth of the ChenaRiver. The ships skipper did a foolish thing. In the prior fall he had taken his boat up the Chena River and proceeded to get it stuck on a sandbar. Pedro showed up with his newly mined gold and bought new supplies off the boat. The skipper then unloaded Barnett's supplies on a sandbar. The now lighter steamer then floated off the sandbar. Barnette established a trading post on this sandbar. For years this sandbar was called Barnett's Cache, later it became Fairbanks, named at the urging of Judge Wickersham after a Senator who had never even been to Alaska. Some historians refer to it as an inference in that it was an accident in history, which it surely was. With the gold fields nearby, the future of Fairbanks was ensured.
The people of Fairbanks never forgot the fact that Anchorage was also an accident in history, although not a primary result, rather than a secondary result of mining and the construction of the Alaska Railroad.
In the case of Anchorage, when it was decided to build the 470-mile railroad line from Seward to the Fairbanks mining camps in order to haul in the necessary mining machinery needed to develop the camps. At first the railroad engineers wanted to build the main headquarters and railroad yards in Seward. But when that news got out and speculators cornered the land around Seward, the government engineers stated that they were not going to pay the outrageous inflated price of fifty dollars an acre for land in Seward. They decided to move the headquarters to Ship Creek, some 100 miles north of Seward. The year was 1915 and the formation of Anchorage began. The rail line continued across the fertile agricultural lands of the Matanuska Valley and on into the Willow Creek mining areas on its way to Fairbanks. The main avowed purposes of building the railroad was to ensure the development of Alaska's vast resources. later in the 1930's under President Roosevelt's "new deal " program provided the rich farm land of the valley to settlers and established a farm community that still exists. There were many other significant gold strikes which include Fortymile in 1866, Innoko in 1906, Ruby in 1907, Ididarod in 1909, Marshall in 1913 and Livengood in 1914. In Ididarod they took 1.3million ounces out of that small district alone.
The three largest gold nuggets ever found in Alaska were all found within one months time near Nome. On September 5, 1901 a 45 troy-ounce was found on the Jarvis Brothers claim on Anvil Creek. (There are 12 troy ounces in a pound instead of the normal 16 ozs.) Sept. 14th a 97-ounce nugget was found on Discovery Claim. Then on Sept. 29th, the largest gold nugget on record in Alaska was found on this same claim. It was 4 inches wide and 7 inches long and weighed 107 ounces.
The second most important commodity in early Alaska's history was copper. The really big copper deposit's found were not in Southeast Alaska but in the Copper River area. Copper was first reported to the Allen expedition by an Indian of that area. Chief Nikolai showed Lt. Allen samples of borodite, copper ore, and pointed to a nearby mountain. Lt. Allen entered this information in his log. Prospectors read and heard of this and went to the mountain and prospected. They found the Chief Nikolai ore body but never shipped any ore. They worked the mine for two years and ran out of copper of commercial value. The next year prospectors and miners joined together and prospected in the vicinity of the Kennecott Glacier. Near the foot of the Zena Glacier they found copper and more near the McCarthy area. They staked some claims and then went where some miners were getting ready to abandon their property and told of their find. This interested the miners very much. They then went back and staked more claims. They recorded the claims in Valdez. Although it was rich copper you had to cross the Copper River twice as well as several glaciers to get there. They began having second thoughts about their claims.
About that time they met a young mining engineer who had just graduated from Columbia University and was being backed by some influential Easterners. His name was Steven Birch. They had given him $200.000 and he spent it buying copper. He went back to New York to raise more money. Birch made the rounds of all the mining companies, and although he was a mining engineer, they all turned him down. Alaska was far away with ice and snow, igloos and Eskimos and they weren't having anything to do with it.
As a result of all his inquiries a small transportation company became interested. However what they were really interested in was that they wanted to start a steamship shipping company to Alaska and needed a back-haul to make their venture more profitable. The name of the company was the Guggenhiem Transportation Company. They eventually started the Alaska Steamship Line.
They hired an engineering consulting firm to look at these deposits. This firm sent their youngest engineer to Alaska to investigate the claims. He examined the deposits and wrote a report, but the senior partners wouldn't release the report. The reason for their reluctance was that copper was .07 cents a pound and this young engineer's report stated that standing at the terminal moraine at the foot of the Zena Glacier he could see $5 million worth of copper. They could neither visualize nor imagine any place on this earth where $5 million worth of copper was sitting there and nobody had ever seen it. Next, one of the senior partners went to Alaska to investigate himself.
When he returned , he wrote in his report that the young engineer's $5 million estimate was in fact wrong. He stated it was closer to $25 million worth of copper. So much copper, just exposed, that on the strength of that they built the first railroad in Alaska. It was called the Copper River & Northwestern Railroad. This was how the town of Cordova got on the map. It was the terminus of the Copper River Railroad.
The Guggenhiem family and J. P. Morgan provided the capital necessary for the Kennecott Copper Mine development project. They invested 25 million dollars before any copper was produced. Their investment included not only the mine development but also the nearly 200 mile railroad from the mine to tide water at Cordova.
In 1911 the first load of copper was shipped to their smelter in Tacoma, Washington. Kennecott Copper Corp. mill processed more than 592,535 tons of copper ore and employed more than 800 workers in its heyday. The price went up to .20 but averaged about .12 cents a pound. Today copper price is around $1.30 a pound, almost 11 times as much as then.
An early-day misspelling resulted in the mining company being known as Kennecott, while the region, river and settlement were known as Kennicott.
Besides gold and copper there were many other commodities that were mined in Alaska. One such commodity is still mined today is platinum. The placer deposits where platinum occurs were first discovered by the gold stampeders. Most abandoned their claims because there was very little gold and quite a bit of this peculiar white metal. They called it a peculiar type of "pyrite". No one ever bothered to find out what it really was. It was rediscovered in 1926, sent to a university for analysis and was identified as Platinum. The discovery was made by a native woman, Franny Banaloe, who was trapping ground squirrels. She saw this particular metal and showed it to a relative of hers, Alder Smith, who got credit for the find because he was the one who called attention to it. Platinum became very important doing during World War II, so important that though the mines were tightly controlled by a small group of stockholders, mainly one family. They would produce platinum until the taxes would be too much and then they would quit producing for a year. In order to encourage more production the Government passed special tax legislation to ease the tax burden. Production increased when the tax burden was lightened. The lesson here is that there are mineral commodity's that were passed over in the past, that will become valuable as time moves forward and incentives change.
Small amounts of antimony, tin and tungsten as well as many other less exotic minerals are presently being mined in Alaska.
A side story about "Tungsten" happened back in the 50s. The story is that a prospector from the Vancouver B.C. area was driving the Alcan highway and had stopped at the Watson Lake Road house for dinner. While eating he struck up a conservation with a fellow sitting next to him. This fellow was a geologist with a crew and explained to the prospector that they were there to make a determination for a large mining company, who had a number of mining claims on a large low grade copper deposit in the area. He explained that the yearly cost of doing the required assessment work on these low grade claims was a concerning the company. The assessment year for mineral claims begins Sept 1st and ends August 31st of each year. Also the fact that there were no shortage of higher grade copper deposits that would be more economical to develop as well as closer to market. The prospector asked if he could visit the site the next day. The geologist had no problem with the prospector looking over the claims.
For the next few days the prospector was all over the claims. There were core samples laying all over the place. Many of them were of such low grade that they were not even identified as to what depth they were from or the location where they were drilled. They were just laying around on the creek banks. After a while the prospector said good-by and thanked the geologist for letting him look over the claims.
He returned on Sept. 1st and found that the mining company had relinquished all the claims back to the government. He proceeded to restate the all claims in his name. It is presently the largest high grade Tungsten deposit in North America! It also drives the economy of that area to this day.
What had happened was that the geologist had been focused on copper and had over looked the Tungsten. Tungsten's scientific name is Schee-lite. It is very difficult to identify without the aid of a mineral light which makes it glow to the naked eye when viewed. The prospector had checked the claim for other minerals using a mineral light. This is a classic example of the over looking the forests for the trees. A few years afterwards the prospector was being interviewed and was ask about his discovery. He told the reporter about his finding the Tungsten and that he had sold the claims to another large mining company for 6.8 million dollars plus a very respectable royalty percentage. The reporter stated that was a very large amount of money for someone who had never had much money and asked what he was going to do with it. It is said the prospector answered stone-faced that he was just going to keep on prospecting until it was all gone.
Petroleum, which is so all important today, was first found and staked in 1898 at a remote site east of Cordova. Prior to that time some natives in the area used pieces of oily tundra as fuel for their homes.
In the 1920's oil was discovered seeping out of the ground in an area west of Point Barrow. A twenty-three million acre area was earmarked for use by the Navy, which was concerned about its dependence on oil. The reserve was called Naval Petroleum Reserve Number Four. It was not developed until World War II. Drilling uncovered nine oil and gas fields, but none were significant finds and active exploration was ceased.
In the 50's oil development was began on the Kenai Peninsula and in Cook Inlet south of Anchorage. In 1957 commercial quantities of oil was discovered in the Swanson River area.
In 1968, leasing rights were let to drill on the North Slope, the region north of the Brooks Range. Later Atlantic Richfield discovered oil at Prudhoe Bay. It turned out to be the largest oil field in North America, representing 25 percent of known oil deposits in the United States. Alaska suddenly became the leader in the nations oil and gas industry. Industry experts say that the area just east of Prudhoe Bay known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) shows the most promise of another major energy source in America. Prudhoe is now winding down, yet there are those who oppose any development any where. Hopefully this opposition will be overcome.
We should remember that America's "Horn Of Plenty" starts with a hole in ground.
Alaska offers more than beautiful scenery for its sparse population and for those who visit it. It has an abundance of natural resources that could increasingly benefit all Americans. The resources include millions of acres of potential farmland, vast stretches of commercial timber, great reservoirs of oil and natural gas, trillions of tons of coal and enormous quantities of nearly every mineral essential to modern society, many of which we are now dependent upon from unfriendly and unstable nations. It will take a frontier spirit to develop these resources of the sometimes forbidding environment of the Arctic.
It will also take a love of the land to do it with environmental respect. Fortunately both qualities are strong in the people who call Alaska home. Even tho the North Slope is a benefit to all Americans, it took nearly 10 years from discovery to production. The Prudhoe oil fields have already began to decline. In another 5 years production will drop by one half million barrels per day. The only way we can stop the decline is through explorations and making new discoveries. There are no incentives to under take the necessary expense of exploration and development if the rewards are snatched away by higher taxes and more regulations. To some, Alaska is a big ice box. To others, it's a treasure chest. Whatever the view point it makes no sense to lock it up by over-regulation or by denying access, before finding out what is inside.
It is now necessary to produce over 40,000 pounds of new minerals each year for each American. This is becoming more and more difficult as higher grade mineral bodies are gradually becoming depleted.
As a result, America today has to import vast quantities of many vital materials, including about 36% of it's Iron, 50% of it's Zinc, 73% of it's Nickel, 90% of it's Aluminum ore and nearly all it's Tin, Cobalt, Manganese and Chromium. Political and economic changes make some foreign sources of supply very insecure.
The oil embargo should of taught us the danger of being so heavily dependent on others. Harvesting the resources of Alaska, whether they be crops, timber, or minerals is not like turning on the tap, it cannot be done instantly, on a whim. Years of lead time are required. Neither government command nor the desperation of people can change that fact. All of man kinds material needs must be dug from the earth, grown from the soil, or taken from the sea. Minerals and the things produced from them are the foundation of our society.
Water is a overlooked resource that is in demand world wide. In many of the pacific rim countries water costs exceed $4.00 a gallon. 40% of America's fresh water resources are in Alaska. Only 2% of the entire worlds is fresh. 75% of that is in glacier form; and the glaciers in Alaska are among the oldest and purest in the world. Some 25,000 to 60,000 years ago, there were no atmospheric contaminants such as acid rain, radiation, fluorocarbons or other man-made pollutants that could find there way into subterranean water sources. We are indeed fortunate to be living in a state with such an abundant resources, including life-sustaining pure water. There seems to be a competitive market advantage using Alaska water. Phrases such as "clear glacier water", "pure Alaska water" and Eklutna glacier water are excellent marketing tools that create the proper image of "purity" of Alaska water. I believe that water value will exceed oil within the next decade. Alaska water opens opportunities to aggressive business enterprises to participate in new revenue sources by making pure pristine Alaska water available to areas in need, at a cost that is affordable.
The motto of Alaska is "North To The Future". Who knows what better future it might hold for us all?
Most of the other towns in Alaska became towns because they were either transportation or communication centers.
When World War II was declared in 1941. Alaska became a strategic location and a decision was made to build a connecting road to Alaska from the then 48 United States. In 1942 the construction of the Alaska Highway began.
This road-link to Alaska was a big inspiration to people with pioneer spirit, and another stampede began as more and more people came "North To The Future". The U.S. Army began construction on Air Fields and military installations. Many workers who worked on the Alaska Highway stayed and went to work on the many Army and Air force installations. Homestead land was available and common with many of the more adventitious pioneers of that era.
Many envy the virtues of those people. The free-hearted hospitality which made every homesteader's cabin a haven, where a person could find a meal or if the need be, a place to spend the night. The community of sentiment which made neighbors, indeed neighbors. It was an era that was marked by the almost total absence of litigation. While a majority of those people were poor, that poverty carried with it no sense of degradation like that felt by the poor of today. Many homesteaders lived in small, one or two room cabins, but it was their own, which most had built with their own hands. Their homes, while inconvenient to some, would compare favorably with the homes of their neighbors. They had warm clothing and an abundance of wholesome food. The meat from moose, caribou, sheep, goat, trout, and salmon, as well as waterfowl was considered a necessity rather than a luxury and was superior to much of our diets today.
These pioneers and their vigorous sons walked the green carpet of the forests, hunting for game and minerals, not with the air of a beggar, but with the springy gait of self respected free men ...