In 1741 Russian sailors led by the Dane Vitus Bering came upon Alaska's mainland. They were followed by British, Spanish and American explorers, including Captain James Cook in 1778. In 1867, Alaska was purchased by the U.S. from Russia. The discovery of gold in 1887 and in the Interior in 1922 sparked development in the area. Construction began in 1914 on a federal railroad from the port of Seward, 126 miles south of Anchorage, through the coal fields of Interior Alaska, to the gold claims near Fairbanks, 358 miles to the north. The midpoint construction headquarters was Anchorage, and by July of 1915, thousands of job seekers and opportunists had poured into the area, living in a tent city on the banks of Ship Creek near the edge of the present downtown. That July produced the "Great Anchorage Lot Sale," a land auction that shaped the future of the city. Some 655 lots were sold for $148,000 or an average of $225 each. A month later, the town voted to call itself Alaska City, but the Federal government refused to change its name from Anchorage. The City of Anchorage was incorporated on Nov. 23, 1920. From 1939 to 1957, major military impacts and government construction of roads, airports and harbors throughout Alaska contributed to the growth of Anchorage. The Port was completed by the early 1960s. The Greater Anchorage Area Borough was formed on Jan. 1, 1964. The Good Friday earthquake in 1964 destroyed a large part of the city. During the 1970s, the development of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline brought rapid growth to Anchorage; population, office space and housing tripled within a ten-year period. On Sept. 15, 1975, the City and Borough governments were unified, along with the cities of Girdwood and Glen Alps.
The population of the community consists of 10.4% Alaska Native or part Native. Anchorage has a history of cultural diversity. Many residents participate in nearby recreational and subsistence activities. Anchorage has over 162 parks, including 10 large reserves. Recreation activities include downhill and cross-country skiing, ice hockey, fishing, golf, swimming, hiking, biking and camping. The George Sullivan Sports Arena, Alaska Performing Arts Center, Egan Convention Center and many other facilities host cultural and entertainment events. During the 2000 U.S. Census, total housing units numbered 100,368, and vacant housing units numbered 5,546. Vacant housing units used only seasonally numbered 1,107. U.S. Census data for Year 2000 showed 134,240 residents as employed. The unemployment rate at that time was 6.76 percent, although 30.37 percent of all adults were not in the work force. The median household income was $55,546, per capita income was $25,287, and 7.35 percent of residents were living below the poverty level.
Water is diverted from three primary sources. Lake Eklutna supplies 35 million gallons per day; Ship Creek Reservoir supplies 24 million gallons per day; and deep wells supply another 20 million gallons per day. Water is treated and piped throughout the municipality -- the Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility maintains 670 miles of transmission and distribution mains. Most homes are served by the piped wastewater system. The John M. Asplund Wastewater Treatment Facility, built in 1972, provides primary treatment of 35 million gallons of wastewater each day. Effluent is discharged into Cook Inlet. Approximately 15,000 homes use individual wells and septic systems. Eagle River and Girdwood are served by tertiary treatment facilities. Piped natural gas is available from ENSTAR Natural Gas Company, and is the most prevalent and cost-effective home heating method. Electricity is provided to the core area by Anchorage Municipal Light & Power and the privately-owned Chugach Electric Association. Matanuska Electric Association serves the Eagle River and Chugiak area of Anchorage, as well as the Matanuska-Susitna Valley. In October 1997, these three utilities purchased the Eklutna Hydroelectric Facility. Anchorage Municipal Light & Power also owns 8 electrical generating facilities. Chugach Electric owns power generating facilities from the Kenai Peninsula to the Eklutna River. The Municipality and privately-owned companies collect refuse for deposit into the Anchorage Regional Landfill on Hiland Road. The municipality collects hazardous wastes and waste oil. The privately-owned Anchorage Recycling Center collects cans, metal, paper and newspaper. Electricity is provided by Chugach Electric Association; Anchorage Municipal Light & Power. There are 98 schools located in the community, attended by 48,837 students. Local hospitals or health clinics include Alaska Regional Hospital (907-264-1239); Providence Alaska Medical Center (907-562-2211); Alaska Native Medical Center (907-729-1729); Elmendorf AFB 3rd Medical Group (907-580-3006); U.S. Army Medical Clinic/Fort Richardson (907-384-0600); Air National Guard Medical Squadron/Kulis (907-249-1276); numerous others. Alaska Native, Alaska Regional, Providence and Elmendorf AFB Hospitals are qualified acute care facilities. Ft. Richardson provides emergency support only. There are numerous public and private providers of specialized care. The Municipality provides the Safe Cities Program (community service patrol) and other services Auxiliary health care is provided by Anchorage Fire Dept./EMS (267-4934/4950); Chugiak Vol. Fire (688-2686/522-1122); Elmendorf AFB 3rd Medical Group (552-5555); Ft. Richardson Medical (384-0774); Air Nat'l Guard/Kulis Medical Squadron (249-1659); Girdwood Fire & Rescue (783-2511).
Anchorage is the center of commerce for the state. Oil and gas industries, finance and real estate, transportation, communications, and government agencies are headquartered in Anchorage. Numerous visitor and tourist facilities and services are available. Over 8,500 military personnel are stationed at Fort Richardson and Elmendorf AFB. Seasonal factors contribute to a fluctuating, though low, unemployment rate. 912 residents hold commercial fishing permits. Most permit-owners fish in Bristol Bay, Kodiak or Cordova.
Controlled airports include the State-owned Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and Lake Hood Float Plane Base, the Municipality's Merrill Field, and U.S. Army and Air Force facilities. The Port of Anchorage handles 85% of the general cargo for the Alaska Railbelt area. There are five terminal berths, with 3,488 linear feet available. Several barge and trucking companies are available. The Alaska Railroad connects Anchorage to Seward, Whittier and Fairbanks.