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Harriman Expedition Retraced

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The 1899 Expedition
The 1899
Expedition


 

Original Participants
Original
Participants

Brief Chronology
Brief
Chronology

Science Aboard the Elder
Science
Aboard the
Elder

History of Exploration
Exploration &
Settlement

Development Along Alaska's Coast
Growth Along Alaska's Coast

Alaska Native Communities
Alaska
Natives

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Growth and Development Along Alaska's Coast:
1745 to 1900


Alaska, with its official nickname "Last Frontier," is indeed our wildest state. The climate is extreme, the topography largely inhospitable to agriculture, and much of the interior accessible only to the most intrepid hikers and bush pilots. Still, Alaska is far from being an untouched wilderness today, and, in fact, was not pristine even a century ago. When the Harriman Expedition arrived in 1899, it found much evidence of industry, commerce, and resource development. The following time line tracks this development from the early days of the fur trade up to the arrival of the George W. Elder in 1899.

1745
Russian fur traders advanced eastward along the Aleutian Archipelago in search of market fur.
Click here to read more about sea otters in Alaska.

1785
British Captain James Hanna secured a cargo of five hundred sea otter pelts from Aleut hunters, and sparked British interest in the Alaskan fur trade.

1799
The Russian American Company was chartered to oversee the fur trade, and to serve as the governing body for the Alaskan region.

1810
A single prime adult female sea otter pelt sold for as much as one thousand rubles, an amount that equaled the total annual salary of three Russian fur traders.

1814
Three hundred Aleut men, women and children from Unalaska were sent to the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea. The Aleuts established permanent sealing communities in the Pribilofs.

1824
Russia and the United States signed a treaty allowing for open trade along the Alaskan Coast.

1828
Norway rats, carried on Russian ships, infested islands on the Aleutian chain.
Click here to read about the dangers of "rat spill.

1838
A packet boat arrived in New York harbor carrying one hundred and five bags of gold, the fortune of British mineralogist James Smithson. Smithson had never set a foot on North American soil, but his gift of gold to the United States established the Smithsonian Institution, and resulted in ethnographic collection efforts and a market for Native objects and art. Click here to learn more about the collection and return of Alaska Native artifacts.


Totem

Totem at Cape Fox Village, Alaska, photographed by Edward Curtis.
Click image for a larger view

1840
The effect of long-term Russian settlement at Sitka was seen in the booming Kolosh bazaar, where Tlingits potatoes, venison and halibut were exchanged for Russian flour, rice, molasses, tobacco and vodka.

1848
The American whaler, Superior, sailed through the Bering Strait and, realizing an excellent catch along Alaska's Arctic coast, spawned the Arctic whaling industry.

1850
As the fur trade dwindled, the Russian American Company expanded into other areas of commerce, including whaling, coal, and ice for refrigeration. Ice proved to be the only profitable product.

1861
Gold was discovered at Telegraph Creek at the Stikine River.

1865
The Russian American Telegraph Expedition surveyed Alaska with the hope of laying trans-Alaskan, trans-Siberian telegraph wire to connect North America and Europe.

1867
The United States purchased Alaska from the Russian government for $7.2 million. The U.S. Army became the governing authority for the territory.
Click here to read U.S. and British newspaper responses to the sale.

1872
The first salmon cannery was established at Old Sitka.

1877
The U.S. Treasury Department became the governing body for Alaska.

1879
The U.S. Navy succeeded the Treasury Department.

1880
A major gold strike at Juneau brought a flurry of speculators and investors to the area. The Juneau - Douglas Mines became the largest employer in Alaska.


Juneau, Alaska 1899

Juneau, Alaska, 1899.
Click image for a larger view

1884
The Organic Act, passed by the United States Congress, established a rudimentary form of civil government in Alaska, and theoretically protected Alaska Native lands from exploitation by outsiders. In fact, the law provided little protection from fishing, timber and mining interests, and Tlingit chiefs in the Southeast reported those commercial fisheries were "taking away fish by shiploads," thereby threatening their livelihoods.
Click here to read about Alaska Native subsistence practices today.

1886
Lt. Frederick Schwatka attempted to ascend Mt. St. Elias during an expedition sponsored and publicized by The New York Times. Expeditions like this one served to keep Alaska in the public's eye.

1890
The first oil claims were staked in Cook Inlet, and Sheldon Jackson introduced reindeer into Alaska in an attempt to develop a herding economy. Large corporate salmon canneries appeared about this time.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced that, in 1890, ten commercial establishments in Alaska reported a total of eighty-six employees, a combined payroll of $22,773, and capital and equipment worth $105,727. By way of contrast, Texas had more than 5268 establishments listed with the Census Bureau, with 39,475 employees, wages of $18,586,338, and capital holdings of forty eight-million dollars.

1896
The U.S. Geological Survey conducted a mineral survey of the Yukon.

1897
The Yukon gold rush began, and the population of Alaska began to swell.

gold rush

A party of gold miners near Skagway on the White Pass Trail, 1897.
Click image for a larger view


1898
A major gold strike in Nome triggered another influx of prospectors.

1899
The Harriman Alaska Expedition surveyed coastal Alaska.

1900
The Spencer Expedition mapped the copper district of Alaska, and the first exploratory oil well was drilled in Cook Inlet. Twenty thousand gold prospectors arrived at Nome Beach. Alaska's capital was moved from Sitka to Juneau. The White Pass and Yukon Railroads were completed.


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For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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