Alaska: 25 Years of Statehood

December 9, 1983

Report Outline
Development vs. Environment
Federal-State Relationship
Major Issues for the Future
Special Focus

Development vs. Environment

Attraction of the ‘Last Frontier’ Image

The Importance of the frontier has been a central theme of American history since 1893, the year historian Frederick Jackson Turner first spelled out his theory on how the receding frontier helped create American democracy. The frontier has long since vanished in most of the United States, but there is one state in which some elements of the frontier remain: Alaska.

Alaska's vast, resource-rich, but barely explored areas are located in some of the most inhospitable wilderness regions of the world — one reason why President Reagan recently praised residents of the state as “the conquerors of the last frontier.” In his 1980 book on Alaska, author Joe McGinness explained the meaning of the “last frontier” label: “For always, in America, there had been an edge; a furtherest reach; a place to which one could travel in order to live a different and a simpler sort of life. To escape pressure and progress and crowds. To start anew, perhaps; building on inner resources. After Alaska, there would no longer be any such place.”

As Alaska prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary of statehood on Jan. 3, 1984, growth and development have altered the state's economy and way of life. Still, in many ways Alaska retains its frontier aspects. For one thing, there is the extremely harsh climate. The short, intense growing season means that much of Alaska's food must be brought in from outside the state. The absence of widespread industrialization means that the state must import nearly all of its manufactured goods.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Energy and the Environment
State, Local, and Intergovernmental Relations