The History of Gold Mining in Alaska

In 1867, just after the end of the United States' Civil War, the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia for a paltry sum of $7.2 million. The transaction was, ironically, paid out in gold. At the time, Alaska was merely a conquest of the U.S., part of the grand scheme of Manifest Destiny, a plan to inhabit the continent coast to coast.

America Gets a Bargain

Little did Russia know that Alaska was worth over $12 billion in her gold resources alone, not to mention her rich supplies of other minerals -- such as zinc, platinum, and copper -- and an abundant supply of oil, fur, fish, sand, and gravel.

Striking Gold in Alaska

Alaska's gold rush began just as the peak of California's gold rush wound down . Miners along the West coast worked their way up the Rocky Mountain range searching for gold nuggets, eventually ending up in Alaska. However, it was a Russian scientist, Petr Doroshin, who first discovered gold on the Kenai Peninsula in 1849.

Soon, other gold reserves were also discovered. Prospectors struck gold in Fortymile County in 1886, in the White Mountains near Fairbanks in 1893, at the Canadian Klondike in 1896, near Nome in 1898, and along the Iditarod in 1908.

How Gold Mining Changed Alaska

Towns sprung up near gold finds almost overnight. In fact, this is how the city of Juneau came to be. As miners swarmed to each new gold finding, towns were built to accommodate their needs for supplies, communications, and legal services. Since Congress had not yet set up a civil government in the Alaska Territory, miners needed legal assistance in staking and protecting their gold claims.

Gold also changed the history of the Native Americans living in Alaska. Gone quickly was their simple way of life, replaced by the hectic life of gold prospectors looking to strike it rich, as well as the lawyers, dance hall girls, moonshiners, restaurateurs, Alaskan jewelers, peddlers, and other industries that came along to entertain and provide for  the newly rich and would-be rich prospectors.

Unfortunately, many of the newly created cities died almost as quickly as they were born, as not all of the gold findings produced enough to sustain the population. Others, however, like Juneau, grew and still thrive today. To date, 32 million ounces of gold have been extracted from Alaskan soil, and gold stands as Alaska's single most valuable resource aside from their vast oil reserves.

Alaskan mines were eventually serviced by the railroads. Trains made traveling to and from Alaskan gold mines safer, quicker, and less costly. Eventually, by the end of World War I, the manual process for extracting gold was too expensive for the gold prices of the day to sustain. Most gold mining in Alaska ceased until the 1970's.


Alaska Jewelry is a family owned and operated business in Sitka, specializing in innovative jewelry since 1990. In 2000, the Fondells expanded their business to include Internet sales. They are now the only locally owned jewelry store in the Sitka area, operating Alaska's Jewelry Goldsmith Gallery in addition to their online sales.