Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm
And I'm Steve Ember. The United States
has had fifty states for fifty years. Alaska and Hawaii both joined the Union in
nineteen fifty-nine. They were the first new states admitted since New Mexico
and Arizona in nineteen twelve. And they are the subject of our program today.
Alaska and Hawaii are the only states
not connected to the mainland, or "the lower forty-eight" as Alaskans
call it. The Hawaiian Islands are in the Pacific Ocean almost four thousand
kilometers west of California. Alaska is on the border of northwestern Canada,
far enough north that part of it is within the Arctic Circle.
Alaska and Hawaii are very different states, but they shared
attention last year during the presidential campaign. Hawaii is the birthplace
of President Barack Obama. Alaska is the home of Governor Sarah Palin, the
Republican candidate for vice president.
is the biggest of the fifty states by territory but one of the smallest by
population. People have lived in Alaska for thousands of years. The population
grew nine percent between two thousand and two thousand seven. Still, fewer
than seven hundred thousand people live in Alaska.
Like to fish? Alaska has more than three thousand
rivers and three million lakes. It also has about one hundred thousand glaciers,
or slow-moving mountains of ice.
of the tallest mountains in the United States are in Alaska. They include the
tallest mountain in North America. Mount McKinley is almost six thousand two
hundred meters high.
And speaking of mountains, Alaska has
more than seventy volcanoes that are potentially active, meaning that someday
they could erupt.
of volcanic activity, Alaska also has a lot of earthquakes. The Alaska Volcano
Observatory records five thousand a year. Most of the shaking is not very
strong, but Alaska has had some of the biggest quakes ever recorded.
Alaska is just across the Bering Strait from Russia. Russia
took control of the territory in the seventeen hundreds. The United States
bought it in eighteen sixty-seven for seven million dollars.
Many Americans criticized the purchase. But
it was one of the best deals the country ever made. Alaska proved rich in oil
Gold was found in the nearby Yukon area of Canada in the
eighteen nineties. Thousands of gold seekers traveled to the Yukon through Alaska
hoping to get rich. Most never did. But some of them decided to stay in Alaska.
Mainly they earned their money as miners, fishermen, animal trappers and store
became an official territory of the United States in nineteen twelve. Four
years later, the first Alaskan statehood bill was proposed in Congress. Opponents
argued that Alaska was far away, disconnected from the other states and little
populated. Only about fifty-eight thousand people lived there at the time.
Yet those were not the only concerns. Historians say
Congress was also unsure about the loyalties of the Alaska natives -- the
Aleuts, Indians and Eskimos. But during World War Two, national leaders recognized
the importance of the territory to security in the Pacific.
The United States entered the war in
December of nineteen forty-one after Japanese planes attacked the Navy base at
Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The surprise attack sank many ships. After that, Congress
provided billions of dollars in defense spending for Alaska. Today, federal
spending is one of the most important parts of the state economy.
After the war, Alaskans
were more serious than ever about statehood. They formed a Statehood Committee in
nineteen forty-nine to work toward that goal.
Finally, in nineteen fifty-eight,
Congress passed the Alaska Statehood Bill and President Dwight Eisenhower
signed it into law. Alaskans accepted it, and on January third, nineteen
fifty-nine, President Eisenhower declared Alaska the forty-ninth state.
Alaska's economy is tied to a large extent to the oil industry. Oil and gas was
found in nineteen sixty-eight near Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope of Alaska. The
discovery of the largest oil and gas field in North America led to the Alaska
Pipeline. After the pipeline was built, the field began production in nineteen
twenty years ago, in March of nineteen eighty-nine, the tanker ship Exxon
Valdez created a huge oil spill along the Alaskan coast. That disaster led
Congress to pass new measures to prevent oil pollution.
environmental groups are fighting proposals to open protected areas of the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling. But supporters of
drilling say America needs it to reduce its dependence on foreign oil.
Another important industry in Alaska is tourism, much
of it involving cruise ships. The Alaska Travel Industry Association says
tourism directly pumps a billion and a half dollars a year into the state economy.
Nine percent of Alaska's total employment is in tourism.
State economists say Alaska had twenty-one years of
economic growth through two thousand eight. But now those economists are unsure
of the future. There are more questions than answers, they say, about how the
worldwide economic downturn will affect Alaska.
Oil prices have collapsed from their record highs of
last year. But that is not the only problem. Because of the recession, people
are traveling less. Not good, as Alaska heads toward its busiest time of year, the
summer vacation season.
Travel is even
more important to Hawaii. The tropical weather and beaches bring people from all
over the world. But Hawaii is also experiencing problems from the downturn.
year was the first year since two thousand four that Hawaii has had fewer than
seven million visitors. The state had six million eight hundred thousand
arrivals in two thousand eight. That was a decrease of ten percent from the
State officials expect a decrease this
year of another two percent. And they expect no growth in the economy through
most of the year.
Around one million three hundred
thousand people live in Hawaii. The state has eight major islands. Most people
live on the four largest.
The Hawaiian Islands were formed starting
millions of years ago by hot liquid rock flowing from undersea volcanoes. Visitors
can still watch the process take place on the largest island, which like the
state is named Hawaii. People usually just call it the Big Island. On the Big
Island, red-hot lava has been flowing from the Kilauea volcano
since the early nineteen eighties.
say Polynesian people first sailed to Hawaii about two thousand years ago. A
king ruled the islands when the eighteenth-century British explorer James Cook
arrived. At first, Hawaiians treated Captain Cook like a god. But in the end, he
was killed on the Big Island in seventeen seventy-nine.
Britain gave the islands their independence in eighteen
forty-three. Then, fifty years later, a group of American businessmen ousted
the ruler and established the Republic of Hawaii. It became an American
territory in nineteen hundred.
was three years after the United States established a naval base at Pearl
Harbor, on the island of Oahu. Oahu served as the command base for American
operations in the Pacific during World War Two.
the war, two-thirds of the people of Hawaii supported statehood. In Congress,
though, there was resistance from southern states because of Hawaii's non-white
native population. But Congress passed the Hawaii Statehood Bill in nineteen
fifty-nine. Hawaiians accepted it, and on August twenty-first, President Eisenhower
declared Hawaii the fiftieth state.
Hawaiians are thinking about their future. Hawaii wants to re-invent itself as
more than a "sun, sand and surf destination," in the words of David
Young, a state information specialist.
A report last month from
a government committee, the Sustainability Task Force, outlined goals for
Hawaii's future. These include increasing affordable housing and strengthening
public education. Other goals are creating better transportation between the
islands and controlling development to preserve the state's natural beauty.
Our program was written by Nancy
Steinbach and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Barbara Klein.
And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for THIS
IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.