Alaska was probably first settled by humans who came there across the Bering Land Bridge. Eventually, Alaska became populated by the Inuit and a variety of Native American groups. Most, if not all, of the pre-Columbian population of the Americas probably took this route and continued further south and east.
The first written accounts indicate that the first Europeans to reach Alaska came from Russia. Vitus Bering sailed east and saw Mt. St. Elias. The Russian-American Company hunted otters for their fur. The colony was never very profitable, because of the costs of transportation.
At the instigation of U.S. Secretary of State William Seward, the United States Senate approved the purchase of Alaska from Russia for $7,200,000 (approximately $90,750,000 in 2005 dollars, adjusted for inflation) on 9 April 1867, and the United States flag was raised on 18 October of that same year (now called Alaska Day). Coincident with the ownership change, the de facto International Date Line was moved westward, and Alaska changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, for residents, Friday, October 6, 1867 was followed by Friday, October 18, 1867; two Fridays in a row because of the date line shift.
The first American administrator of Alaska was Wlodzimierz Krzyzanowski. The purchase was not popular in the contiguous United States, where Alaska became known as "Seward's Folly" or "Seward's Icebox." Alaska celebrates the purchase each year on the last Monday of March, calling it Seward's Day. After the purchase of Alaska between 1867 and 1884 the name was changed to the Department of Alaska. Between 1884 and 1912 it was called the district of Alaska.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Alaska Statehood Act into United States law on 7 July 1958 which paved the way for Alaska's admission into the Union on January 3, 1959.
Alaska suffered one of the worst earthquakes in recorded North American history on Good Friday 1964 (see Good Friday Earthquake).
In 1976, the people of Alaska amended the state's constitution, establishing the Alaska Permanent Fund. The fund invests a portion of the state's mineral revenue, including revenue from the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System, "to benefit all generations of Alaskans." In March 2005, the fund's value was over $30 billion.
Prior to 1983, the state lay across four different time zones-Pacific Standard Time (UTC -8 hours) in the extreme southeast, a small area of Yukon Standard Time (UTC -9 hours) around Juneau, Alaska–Hawaii Standard Time (UTC -10 hours) in the Anchorage and Fairbanks vicinity, with the Nome area and most of the Aleutian Islands observing Bering Standard Time (UTC -11 hours). In 1983 the number of time zones was reduced to two, with the entire mainland plus the inner Aleutian Islands going to UTC -9 hours (and this zone then being renamed Alaska Standard Time as the Yukon Territory had several years earlier (circa 1975) adopted a single time zone identical to Pacific Standard Time), and the remaining Aleutian Islands were slotted into the UTC -10 hours zone, which was then renamed Hawaii–Aleutian Standard Time.
Over the years various vessels have been named USS Alaska, in honor of the state.
During World War II three of the outer Aleutian Islands-Attu, Agattu and Kiska-were occupied by Japanese troops. It was the only part of the United States to have land occupied during the war.