Skip to content
Back to Top

World War I and the Alaskan Experience

May 26, 1918, Fairbanks, AK: Miss Margaret Kennan & 5 volunteers for WWI. All are holding a flag with 5 stars in a line across the center.
Miss Margaret Kennan [Harrais] and 5 volunteers for W.W.I; May 26, 1918, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Walter T. Phillips Photograph Collection, 1911-1918. ASL-PCA-242-53.

World War I was a global war that lasted from July 1914 to November 1918 that resulted in over nine million combatant and seven million civilian casualties. The United States initially pursued a policy of non-intervention, but after Germany sank American ships and engaged in acts of war against the United States, the United States entered the war in April 1917. Many individuals from Alaska served in the wartime effort. Even before the United States joined the war Alaskan women joined the Red Cross and Alaskan men traveled to Canada to enlist and fight with British Expeditionary Forces.

In Alaska more than 10,000 men enlisted to serve between 1917 and 1918, though only 2,200 of these enlistees were eventually inducted into service. Most of these 2,200 soldiers were sent to military bases in Alaska for training, while some were transported to bases in the Lower-48. Few of the 2,200 inductees traveled to Europe and participated in battle due to the War's end in November 1918. Though Alaska Natives and other ethnic minorities pursued enlistment, most were rejected for induction.

The war impacted Alaska in many ways. While salmon canneries marketed and supplied their goods to Europe and its armies, they also suffered from a labor shortage as workers left Alaska to serve in the war. Although some Alaskan schools trained cadets for war and Alaskans were encouraged to purchase war bonds to help fund American involvement in the conflict, not everyone supported the war. Some Alaskans hoped for peace and the war's end. Xenophobia, an irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries, against those with Germanic ancestry in Alaska was such a problem that Alaska's Governor J.F.A. Strong issued a 1917 Proclamation reminding Alaskans that; “no word or deed on the part of American citizens should operate to incite racial feeling or create prejudice against those who have come to the Territory for the purposes of bettering their condition and enjoying the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

When the war ended in 1918 Alaskans serving abroad wanted to return home and take up their jobs and old lives. The seasonality of many Alaskan jobs such as fishing and mining was a concern to both soldiers and former employers. Many wrote letters requesting their discharge in order to make it back in time to make their income for the year. Despite the governor's and others intervention, release from the armed forces was slow and many continued to serve after the war despite their desire to be discharged. Amid this period the Spanish Flu, a dangerous and sometimes fatal pandemic, spread across the world. Thousands in Alaska died, as well as Alaskans serving in the war effort outside of the Territory.

Primary Sources

War draft telegrams of Governor Riggs, 1918

Description War draft telegrams of Governor Riggs, 1918.
Date created 1918
Repository Alaska State Archives
Citation War draft telegrams of Governor Riggs, 1918, in Reel 11005, Part 7, Office of the District and Territorial Governor, Alaska State Archives.
Online access War draft telegrams of Governor Riggs, 1918 [Alaska's Digital Archives]

Proclamation by Governor John F.A. Strong about World War I and Alaskans

Description Proclamation by Governor John F.A. Strong about World War I and Alaskans, April 12, 1917.
Dates created April 12, 1917
Repository Alaska State Archives
Citation Proclamation by Governor John F.A. Strong about World War I and Alaskans, April 12, 1917, in Box MP 47, Office of the Territorial Attorney General Records, Alaska State Archives.
Online access Proclamation by Governor John F.A. Strong about World War I and Alaskans [Alaska's Digital Archives]

Governor Thomas Riggs' Proclamation on War Savings Day

Description Governor Thomas Riggs' Proclamation on War Savings Day, World War I, June 15, 1918.
Date created June 15, 1918
Repository Alaska State Archives
Citation Governor Thomas Riggs' Proclamation on War Savings Day, World War I, June 15, 1918, in Box AS 34684, Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development records, Alaska State Archives.
Online access Governor Thomas Riggs' Proclamation on War Savings Day [Alaska's Digital Archives]

Alphabetical list of Alaska World War ex-service persons, ca. 1923-1926

Description Alphabetical list of Alaska World War ex-service persons, ca. 1923-1926. This ledger contains a ledger which records male and female ex-service members (veterans) from Alaska that served in World War I (First World War) from 1917-1918. This record was created in response to a 1923 law passed by the Alaskan Territorial Legislature that sought to document war veterans.
Date created ca. 1923-1926
Repository Alaska State Archives
Citation Alphabetical list of Alaska World War ex-service persons, ca. 1923-1926, in Box AS 34124, Office of the District and Territorial Governor, Alaska State Archives.
Online access Alphabetical list of Alaska World War ex-service persons, ca. 1923-1926 [Alaska's Digital Archives]

Letters sent by Governor John F. A. Strong, 1917-1918

Description Letters sent by Governor John F. A. Strong, 1917-1918, concerning military affairs.
Date created 1917-1918
Repository Alaska State Archives
Citation Letters sent by Governor John F. A. Strong, 1917-1918, in Reel 11001, Part 1, Office of the District and Territorial Governor, Alaska State Archives.
Online access Letters sent by Governor John F. A. Strong, 1917-1918 [Alaska's Digital Archives]

Red Cross Proclamation by Governor Thomas Riggs, Jr., 1918

Description Red Cross Proclamation by Governor Thomas Riggs, Jr., 1918.
Date created 1918
Repository Alaska State Archives
Citation Red Cross Proclamation by Governor Thomas Riggs, Jr., 1918, in Box VS 168, Office of the District and Territorial Governor, Alaska State Archives.
Online access Red Cross Proclamation by Governor Thomas Riggs, Jr., 1918 [Alaska's Digital Archives]

Thanksgiving Day proclamation by Governor Thomas Riggs, Jr., 1919

Description Thanksgiving Day proclamation by Governor Thomas Riggs, Jr., 1919.
Date created 1919
Repository Alaska State Archives
Citation Thanksgiving Day proclamation by Governor Thomas Riggs, Jr., 1919, in Box VS 168, Office of the District and Territorial Governor, Alaska State Archives.
Online access Thanksgiving Day proclamation by Governor Thomas Riggs, Jr., 1919 [Alaska's Digital Archives]

Additional Resources

Online Exhibit

Description Alaska and WWI: A Centennial Exhibit
Date created 2018
Creator Alaska State Archives and Alaska State Library Historical Collections
Online access Alaska and WWI: A Centennial Exhibit [ArcGIS]

Page last updated 05/28/2021