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Happy 55th birthday, Alaska!

Suzanna Caldwell
Sunrise over the Aleutian Island in western Alaska. NASA photo

Happy birthday, Alaska!

The Great Land was officially proclaimed a part of the union 55 years ago, on Jan. 3, 1959, six months after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Alaska Statehood Act into law.

The statehood act followed almost 100 years of territorial status. In 1867, the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia for 3 cents an acre. Though an unpopular idea at the time (dubbed “Seward's Folly” after William Seward, then U.S. Secretary of State), the discovery of gold and other natural resources (including vast fisheries and large reservoirs of oil and gas) would prove Alaska more than just a desolate icebox.

Alaska has seen a lot of changes in the years since. Pipelines have been built, economies have been created, cities have boomed and citizens have thrived. We don't know what the next 55 years will bring, but odds are if they're anything like the last 55, they'll be exciting.

For a glimpse of those heady times, here are a few video time capsules from the Alaska Film Archives at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, showing celebrations surrounding the day Eisenhower made Alaska statehood official.

Eisenhower signs the Statehood Act:

Fairbanks statehood celebrations

Nome statehood parade

Quick recap of Alaska statehood recap, including historical footage