On March 30, 1867, the United States bought the territory of Russian America which was renamed Alaska and Yukon Territories. The name Alaska was derived from the original name for the archipelago and peninsula of the territory, Aliaska. With the addition of territory, expeditions went out to explore the newly purchased land. In Lehigh’s Special Collections is a book reminiscing on one such expedition. Travel and Adventure in the Territory of Alaska is an account by Frederick Whymper, an experienced explorer of Alaska, who would be there to see the raising of the first American Flag in the territory. Whymper was known as a talented engraver and artist before his exploration days. His father was a renowned artist, and his brother, Edward Whymper, became the first person to climb the Matterhorn. Whymper’s book displays the vast knowledge he had gained in his expeditions along with his sense of humor. In the preface he describes the purchase of the territory by the United States and ends with “I glean that the United States Government, so far from regretting the purchase of Alaska, are almost ready to bid for Iceland and Greenland! Mr. Seward’s mania for icebergs and snow-fields seems insatiable.”
Whymper’s book covers his own expeditions as well as many of the cultural impacts on the United States. He details the hundreds of people who traveled through Alaska looking for the “Northern El Dorado” during the Alaskan Gold Rush. He chronicles the confrontations with the natives and, when relations were better, their culture and communities. He continues to observe the development of Alaska through visits to Sitka, the capital at the time, traveling with an expedition to create telegraph communications, and following the businesses and trades going in and out. Later in the book, he details much about the development of California at the time.
With 2017 marking the 150th anniversary of the United States’ purchase of Alaska, we at Special Collections encourage you to explore this expansive land and others through the eyes of those who first trekked into the unknown and wild. To view this book you can request to view it here. To see other great books exploring our past, visit us online.