By the early 1800s, Russian and English fur traders began arriving in the Alaskan interior establishing the first contact with the indigenous population. Following the United States’ purchase of Alaska in 1867, American traders and prospectors entered the region in greater numbers and Fairbanks was established in 1903 as a result of a gold rush in the Tanana Valley. The Fairbanks to Valdez Trail was subsequently established, connecting Fairbanks to the coast, and roadhouses sprang up along the way to serve travelers. Between 1900 and 1904 the Army constructed the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS) to expand the state’s communication. Agriculture also gained a foothold in the Tanana Valley, and by the 1920s, the Alaska Railroad and commercial aviation were expanding transportation in the Interior.
Construction on Ladd Field began in 1939 with Army Air Corps construction of a cold weather test station. During World War II, Ladd Field played a pivotal role in the transfer of U.S. aircraft to the Soviet Union through Lend-Lease operations. Following the war, Ladd Field was known as Ladd Air Force Base, and was responsible for air defense operations in Alaska’s northern sector. Its other Cold War missions included photo, electronic, and weather reconnaissance; cold weather testing; logistic support of auxiliary sites; and support of scientific research and the Arctic Aeromedical Laboratory. In 1961, Ladd Air Force Base was turned over to the Army and renamed Fort Jonathan Wainwright.
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