Fairbanks, with a population of 32,469, is the state of Alaska’s second largest city. It is located approximately 120 miles south of the Arctic Circle, on the banks of the Chena River.
1. The founding of Fairbanks can be traced to August 26, 1901 when E.T. Barnette created a temporary trading post on the banks of the Chena River. Barnette was headed elsewhere when the steamship he was traveling on ran aground in shallow water.
2. After a major gold discovery was made near Barnette’s temporary location, he converted it into a permanent one. The gold caused a stampede of miners to the area, and buildings sprang up around Barnette’s trading post.
3. In November 1903, the area’s residents voted to incorporate the city of Fairbanks. Barnette became the city’s first mayor.
4. The city was named in honor of Sen. Charles W. Fairbanks of Indiana, who would become the 26th Vice President of the United States from 1905 to 1909 under President Theodore Roosevelt.
5. The new city of Fairbanks flourished as thousands of people came in search of gold. Gold production increased from $40,000 in 1903 to $6 million in 1905.
6. By 1911, Fairbanks was Alaska territory’s largest city, with a population of 3,500. The Fairbanks Commercial Club created the slogan “Fairbanks, Alaska’s Golden Heart,” which remains the city’s motto today.
7. By World War I, the easy-to-reach gold was exhausted and Fairbanks’ population plunged as miners were drafted for the war effort, or moved elsewhere in Alaska to more promising gold fields.
8. During the 1920’s construction of the Alaska Railroad allowed heavy equipment to be brought in for further exploitation of Fairbanks’ gold deposits. Enormous gold dredges were built north of Fairbanks.
9. Aided by President Roosevelt fixing the price of gold at $35/ounce in 1933, Fairbanks grew during the 1930s and was insulated from the Great Depression.
10. Large-scale gold dredging peaked in 1940 with 209,000 ounces of gold produced in the greater Fairbanks area. After the outbreak of World War II in Alaska, the federal government closed most gold-mining operations as unessential to the war effort.
11. Today in 2017, gold is still commercially mined in two locations near Fairbanks. Located 26 miles north of the city, the Fort Knox Gold Mine has produced several million ounces of gold since it opened in 1996. The Pogo Gold Mine, located 85 miles southeast of Fairbanks, began operation in 2007.
12. Aviation and the military also have a strong history in Fairbanks. Alaska’s first commercial aircraft service began in June 1923, when Noel Wien began flying mail routes between Fairbanks and isolated communities. By the early 1930’s, there were almost 50 airplanes in Fairbanks, a town of 3,000 people.
13. Due to Fairbanks’ location halfway between New York City and Tokyo, the city became a popular stop on the first around-the-world flights such as Wiley Post’s 1933 solo circumnavigation, and Howard Hughes’ 1938 effort.
14. During the summer of 1939, just as Germany invaded Poland to start World War II, construction began on a new military airbase near Fairbanks. The first runway at Ladd Army Airfield was finished in September 1940, and soldiers practiced flying and servicing aircraft in subzero weather conditions. The Fairbanks location was ideal because no other U.S. location had such consistently cold conditions.
15. In June 1942, the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands and bombing of Dutch Harbor intensified the war’s effect on Fairbanks. Ladd Field’s cold-weather testing detachment was disbanded as its soldiers were used to bolster Alaska defenses at other locations.
16. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army and the Canadian government began construction of the Alaska Highway to link the Canadian road network to Alaska’s Richardson Highway and Fairbanks. The purpose of this World War II effort was to connect the contiguous United States to Alaska across Canada. The highway was completed in fall 1942 and regular traffic began in 1943.
17. Today, nearly half of Fairbank’s population is made up of military personnel.
18. When the vast Prudhoe Bay Oil Field was discovered in Alaska’s North Slope in 1968, a massive boom was sparked once again in Fairbanks. As the closest city, Fairbanks became the supply point for the oil field and for construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
19. When pipeline work began in early 1974, the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company spent an estimated $800,000 a day in Fairbanks. Tens of thousands of workers poured into the city, straining the local infrastructure, as the population of the Fairbanks North Star Borough increased by 40 percent between 1973 and 1976. This boom ended as the pipeline was completed in 1977.
20. Fairbanks is a city of extreme temperatures. In summer, temperatures typically range between 70 and 50 °F with the highest recorded temperature in Fairbanks of 99 °F on July 28, 1919.
21. One the coldest cities in the United States, average low winter temperatures in Fairbanks range from between negative 15 to negative 25°F. Extreme weather can be much colder. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Fairbanks was 66 degrees below zero on January 14, 1934.
22. Parking lots in Fairbanks offer electric outlets for plugging in vehicles’ engine block heaters so they will start in cold weather.
23. The aurora borealis (northern lights) can be seen in Fairbanks for approximately 200 days a year, but not during summer tourist season. The northern lights generally occur between mid-September to April, with the best viewing usually between December and March when Fairbanks typically experiences its coldest nights with clear skies.
24. On December 21st, the shortest day of the year, Fairbanks has 3 hours, 43 minutes of daylight. Post winter solstice, the city begins gaining six to seven minutes of daylight each day. By the summer solstice on June 21st, there are 21 hours and 49 minutes of daylight in Fairbanks. Soon after, the city begins losing six to seven minutes of daylight each day until winter solstice occurs.
Learn more about the history of Fairbanks, Alaska in these books:
Good Company: A Mining Family in Fairbanks, Alaska
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