The Whittier Glacier near Whittier was named for the American poet John Greenleaf Whittier in 1915.
During World War II the United States Army constructed a military facility, complete with port and railroad terminus near the glacier and named the facility Camp Sullivan. The spur of the Alaska Railroad to Camp Sullivan was completed in 1943 and the port became the entrance for United States soldiers into Alaska.
The two huge buildings that dominate Whittier were built after World War II. The 14-story Hodge Building (now Begich Towers) completed in 1957 contained 150 two and three bedroom apartments plus bachelor efficiency units. Dependent families and Civil Service employees were moved into this efficient high rise. The new Whittier School was connected by a tunnel at the base of the west tower so students could go to school in short sleeves on the very worst weather days. The building, originally was named in honor of Colonel Walter William Hodge Civil. Engineer. the CO of 93rd Engineer Regiment on the Alcan Highway. The other structure, the Buckner Building, had been completed in 1953, and was called the "city under one roof". Both buildings were at one time the largest buildings in Alaska. The Begich Building is now a condominium. Together with the 2-story Whittier Manor, Begich Building houses nearly all of Whittier's residents. The port remained an active Army facility until 1960.
The town was severely damaged by tsunamis triggered by the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake; thirteen people died due to waves that reached 13 m (43 ft).
Whittier is a popular port of call for cruise ships, as it has connections to Anchorage and the interior of Alaska by both highway and rail. It is the embarkation/debarkation point of the Denali Express nonstop rail service to and from Denali National Park operated by Princess Tours. Whittier is also popular with tourists, sport fishermen and hunters.
Whittier is in the Chugach School District and has one school serving around 35 students from preschool through high school.