• U.S.

TERRITORIES: Defrosting

5 minute read
TIME

In 1867 Alaska was called “Seward’s Folly” and “The Ice-Box of the North” because Secretary of State William Henry Seward bought the land from Russia for $7,200,000 (7¢ per acre) and everyone knew it was a wasteland of ice and snow, inhabited only by wolves and Eskimos.

Last week Under Secretary of the Interior Harry Slattery defrosted the Ice-Box of the North. In 94 packed pages he reported to Secretary Harold L. Ickes that the planned development of Alaska “is an inescapable moral obligation” of the U. S., that its 590,884 square miles are the “last frontier,” that U. S. economy and national defense demand its large-scale settlement, preferably by public-purpose corporations such as the East India Company that developed India for Great Britain, the Plymouth Company that developed the Indian-infested wilds of Massachusetts.

Although no hot-lipped trumpeter like his boss, Under Secretary Slattery released a report full of tall talk in Technicolor, pausing occasionally to put the blast on antique U. S. misconceptions of Alaska (see map). He found:

¶ Less than 3% of Alaska is always under ice and snow.

¶ Some towns (Juneau, Sitka) are cooler in summer, warmer in winter than St. Louis, Chicago, New York City. Sweden and Finland are in the same latitude as Alaska.

¶ Alaska has 65,000 square miles suitable for farming (30% of that only for grazing), yet in 1930 had only 14 square miles in cultivation.

¶ Besides its known riches of gold, silver and copper, Alaska has the only U. S. tin deposits.

¶ The territory is a feminine paradise: 228 males to each 100 females (U. S. 108 to 100), but 57.6% of the men are over 35, representing the residue of sourdoughs who never left the trail.

¶ Fresh milk costs 25¢ per quart, bread usually 25¢ per loaf, gasoline 35¢ per gallon, imported timothy hay $75 per ton, local hay $30-$40.

¶ Old Alaskans have never seen a wolf pack, do not know anyone who has (counting a pack as more than five, which is a family).

¶ Coastal mosquitoes are few, but those in the interior bad. Oldtimers swear you can’t tell mosquitoes in the interior from ducks, unless you know a lot about ducks. >In southeastern Alaska within five miles of tidewater, enough timber can be cut annually to supply one-quarter of U. S. newsprint needs, in perpetuity, without denting the forests.

¶ In 1938, the 60,000 people in Alaska bought $42,000,000 of U. S. products—more than Czecho-Slovakia, Denmark, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Switzerland, Poland, Finland, Portugal or Spain, all countries with much greater population, and only slightly less than Russia and Brazil.

¶ The air route from San Francisco to Japan via the Aleutian Islands is 1,700 miles shorter than the route via Hawaii.

¶ Poorly defended, underpopulated rich land such as Alaska is “a standing temptation” to overpopulated, resource-hungry militarized nations. Alaska is 54 miles by mainland from Siberia, eight miles away by the closest islands. The westmost end of the Aleutians is only 660 miles from Japan’s eastmost naval base, Horomushiro, while Yokohama is 3,400 miles from fortified Honolulu.

¶ There are not enough hotels in Alaska even to meet the present tourist trade.

¶ Salmon fishing, the principal industry, now tops any other fishery in the world, while salmon is an inexhaustible resource, with production limited only by the U. S. appetite.

¶ The small, tasty shrimps of southeastern Alaska, the herring and shellfish industries are underdeveloped. Yukon mink bring the highest world prices, but could have production expanded 100 times without sinking the world price. Petroleum resources have not even been tapped.

¶ Alaska’s “vicious circle” is: underpopulation leads to high-priced transportation to high living costs to high production costs to unprofitable industries to seasonal unemployment to a discouragement of immigration, and encouragement of emigration and thus back to underpopulation.

¶ In 1887, 800 Indian victims of Canadian religious persecution got U. S. permission to settle in Alaska, founded Alaska’s first refugee colony at Metlakatla. They fished for salmon, now have Alaska’s most prosperous municipality. With publicly owned utilities, a 60-piece band, Alaska’s only municipal hall, modern Met-lakatlans have fine homes (onefourth have organs or pianos), own boats valued from $2,000 to $20,000.

The 165 resettled relief families still living in the Matanuska Valley project (200 families started out) now make a comfortable living, will do well. Some have made as much as $6,000 each per year.*

¶ Alaska cannot be developed without large investments of private capital working under Government charters that would limit profits and prevent further drainage of Alaskan wealth to absentee owners.

¶ Alaska is “perhaps the last country in the world where a hermit can build a cabin and never see a tax collector.”

*Hard-bitten Walter G. Pippel is Matanuska Valley’s real moneymaker. He grossed $ 11,000 in 1936-37 raising cabbages, tomatoes, turnips, potatoes, now grosses $200 a week. When U. S. colony agents insisted that he sign a purchase contract for his farm—with the reservation that the colony farms remain in the cooperative —stubborn Mr. Pippel balked, refused to sign, hawked his produce at Anchorage. Resigning from the cooperative, Pippel went to court. Last August the case of People v. Pippel was settled out of court. Individualist Pippel agreed to vacate his colony farm and start all over again.

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