Excerpts from "the first rough draft of history" as reported in The Washington Post on this date in the 20th century.
Twice as large in area as Texas, Alaska is one of five states admitted to the union in this century. The territory was purchased in 1867 from Russia for a mere $7.2 million. Known as "Seward's Folly" in a scornful reference to Secretary of State William Seward, who engineered the deal, Alaska was thought to be just a vast, ice-covered wasteland. In addition to its other enormous resources, its oil reserves at Prudhoe Bay are the country's largest. Statehood became official on Jan. 3, 1959. An excerpt from The Post of July 1, 1958:
By Robert C. Albright
The Senate yesterday stitched a 49th star into the Flag -- Alaska's -- by the overwhelming vote of 64 to 20.It will take another six months, perhaps, to make it all official, but for all practical purposes the Territory's long dream of statehood was realized in yesterday's vote.
The Senate turned the trick by voting final passage of a House-approved statehood bill without a single modifying change, then sent the completed measure directly to the President for signature.
Actually, Alaska must still go through a series of formalities and elections, concluding with a referendum on statehood itself, before it qualifies as the first state to be admitted to the Union since New Mexico and Arizona came in, in 1912.
Senate galleries, crowded with Alaska rooters, burst into applause as the vote was announced. Some of the Senators flouted their own rule against demonstrations in the chamber by joining in the hand-clapping.
Among the rooters were Alaska's two unofficial "Senators," Ernest Gruening and Willian Egan, and Ralph Rivers, its unofficial choice for the House, as well as Mike Stepovitch, Governor of Alaska. "Thank God," shouted Stepovitch from the gallery when the vote was announced.
Trotting out a 49-star flag, Alaskans got a celebration underway here that had repercussions from Point Barrow to Ketchican. In Anchorage, civil defense sirens shrieked as radio and TV stations spread the news across the territory. Eskimo villages joined Alaska's modern cities in the statehood salute, United Press reports.
The Senate vote climaxing the long struggle for statehood followed complete rout of of a final flurry of opposition amendments. On the final count 31 Democats joined 33 Republicans in voting "aye." Opposed were 7 Republicans and 13 Democrats, almost solidly Southerners.
Acting Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.), with plenty of bipartisan assistance, scored the touchdown for statehood in the absence of Senate Democratic leader Lyndon B. Johnson (D-Tex.), who left floor strategy in Mansfield's hands.
Senate Republican Leader William F. Knowland (Calif.) backstopped him, but said Alaska was "only half the job," with the other half, Hawaii, incomplete.