Anchorage (officially called the Municipality of Anchorage) is a unified home rule municipality in the U.S. State of Alaska. With an estimated 300,950 residents in 2013, it is Alaska's most populous city and contains more than 40 percent of the state's total population; among the 50 states, only New York has a higher percentage of residents who live in its most populous city. Altogether, the Anchorage metropolitan area, which combines Anchorage with the neighboring Matanuska-Susitna Borough, had a population of 396,142 in 2013.
Anchorage is located in the South-central portion of Alaska at the terminus of the Cook Inlet on a peninsula formed by the Knik Arm to the north and the Turnagain Arm to the south. The city limits span 1,961.1 square miles which encompass the urban core, a joint Military base, several outlying communities and almost all of Chugach State Park.
Anchorage’s location on the globe puts it within 9 and ½ hours by air to nearly 90% of the industrialized world. For this reason Anchorage is a common refueling stop for many international passenger flights and is home to a major FedEx Hub which the company calls a “critical part”” of its global network of services.
Anchorage has been named an All-America City four times, in 1956, 1965, 1984–85, and 2002, by the National Civic League. It has also been named by Kiplinger as the most tax-friendly city in the United States.
Russian presence in south central Alaska was well established in the 19th century. In 1867, U. S. Secretary of State William H. Seward brokered a deal to purchase Alaska from Imperial Russia for $7.2 million (about two cents an acre). His political rivals lampooned the deal as "Seward's folly", "Seward's icebox" and "Walrussia". By 1888, gold was discovered along Turnagain Arm.
In 1912, Alaska became a United States territory. Anchorage, unlike every other large town in Alaska south of the Brooks Range, was neither a fishing nor mining camp. The area surrounding Anchorage lacks significant economic metal minerals. While a number of Dena'ina settlements existed along Knik Arm for years, only two white men, Bud Whitney and Jack Brown, were reported to have lived in the Ship Creek valley in the 1910s prior to the large influx of settlers.
The city grew from its happenstance choice as the site, in 1914, of a railroad-construction port for the Alaska Engineering Commission. The area near the mouth of Ship Creek, where the railroad headquarters was located, quickly became a tent city. A town site was mapped out on higher ground to the south of the tent city, greatly noted in the years since for its order and rigidity compared with other Alaska town sites. Anchorage was incorporated on November 23, 1920.
Construction of the Alaska Railroad continued until its completion in 1923. The city's economy in the 1920s and 1930s centered on the railroad. Col. Otto F. Ohlson, the Swedish-born general manager of the railroad for nearly two decades, became a symbol of residents' contempt due to the firm control he maintained over the railroad's affairs, which by extension became control over economic and other aspects of life in Alaska.
Between the 1930s and the 1950s, the city experienced massive growth as air transportation and the military became increasingly important. Aviation operations in Anchorage commenced along the firebreak south of town (today's Delaney Park Strip), which residents also used as a golf course. An increase in air traffic led to clearing of a site directly east of town site boundaries starting in 1929; this became Merrill Field, which served as Anchorage's primary airport during the 1930s and 1940s, until Anchorage International Airport replaced it in 1951. However, Merrill Field still sees a significant amount of general aviation traffic.
Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson were constructed in the 1940s, and served as the city's primary economic engine until the 1968 Prudhoe Bay discovery shifted the thrust of the economy toward the oil industry. The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process led to the combining of the two bases (along with Kulis Air National Guard Base) to form Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
In 1968 ARCO discovered oil in Prudhoe Bay on the Alaska North Slope, and the resulting oil boom spurred further growth in Anchorage. In 1975, the City of Anchorage and the Greater Anchorage Area Borough (which includes Eagle River, Girdwood, Glen Alps, and several other communities) merged into the geographically larger Municipality of Anchorage The city continued to grow in the 1980s, and capital projects and an aggressive beautification campaign took place.
Several attempts have been made to move Alaska's state capital from Juneau to Anchorage, or to a site closer to Anchorage. The motivation is straightforward: the "railbelt" between Anchorage and Fairbanks contains the majority of the state's population. Robert Atwood, owner of the Anchorage Times and a tireless booster for the city, championed the move. Alaskans rejected attempts to move the capital in 1960 and 1962, but in 1974, as Alaska's center of population moved away from Southeast Alaska and to the railbelt, voters approved the move. Communities such as Fairbanks and much of rural Alaska opposed moving the capital to Anchorage for fear of concentrating more power in the state's largest city. As a result, in 1976 voters approved a plan to build a new capital city near Willow, about 70 miles north of Anchorage. Opponents to the move reacted by campaigning to defeat, in the 1978 elections, a nearly $1 billion bond issue to fund construction of the new capitol building and related facilities. Subsequent attempts to move the capital or the legislature to Wasilla, north of Anchorage, also failed. Anchorage contains over twice as many state employees as does Juneau, and is to a considerable extent the center of state and federal government activity in Alaska.