A General History

The Alaska Highway was built in only eight months in 1942, following the need to connect the "Lower 48" and Alaska to provide for American defense after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt authorized its construction, and soon the massive military road crew set off to complete the amazing feat of creating the Alaska Highway. The lack of communication the soldiers had with the outside world was a striking illustration of the remoteness of many of the communities prior to the completion of the highway. Located hundreds of miles from each other, communication between headquarters and field parties proved sometimes non-existent. 

image of highway
Photo courtesy of The University of Alaska Anchorage, UAA-hmc-0637-18

The Alaska Highway not only allowed for communication between the continental United States and Alaska, but it also physically linked cities and villages which previously had little connection except for sporadic trade along the trails and waterways. Suddenly a 1,390 mile road was completed, which not only linked communities to each other, but also served as the gateway north to the interior of Alaska, or south into Canada and the Lower 48. Today, the Alaska Highway is traveled for recreation, transportation to urban centers and for shipping supplies.

image of women drinking water
Photo courtesy of Rachel Thomas

The highway has affected the communities along its route positively and negatively. The highway has become a popular tourist attraction, which has created an influx of visitors to many of the communities. An increase of tourism can mean good business, a stronger economy, and a source of revenue that otherwise would not have existed. The simplicity and ease of driving the highway is also beneficial for the communities because of the accessibility to goods and services previously not available. Some feel a negative aspect of the highway is a loss of traditional culture because of outside influence, particularly in primarily Native communities. (Coates, Kenneth. North to Alaska: Fifty years on the world’s most remarkable highway. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 1992.)

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