Alaska came into American hands in 1867, when William H. Seward bought the territory for seven million dollars from Russia, a bargain at two cents per acre. The land was originally considered to be unprofitable, which lent the territory its nickname, "Seward's Folly." This changed in 1888 when gold was discovered in the area. Anchorage got its beginnings as a post on the Alaska Railroad. Railroad workers bought the first lots in 1915, and were followed by others hoping to profit off the settlers. The name "Anchorage" came from the name of a hardwood store operated from a boat, and refers to a place where a ship can lay anchor. The city was officially incorporated in 1920.

    The 1930s and 40s marked a period of growth for Anchorage, stemming from its strategic location amenable to air travel. Merrill Field, Anchorage's first airport, became a hub of American aircraft activity in the 30s. In the 40s, the city profited from the construction of Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson. During this decade, the population of the city swelled from 4,000 to 30,000 people, a change of 750%. Alaska became the 49th state of the Union in 1959.

    On March 27, 1964, Anchorage was devastated by the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America, registering a 9.2 on the Richter Scale. Downtown Anchorage was less than one hundred miles away from the earthquake's epicenter. Known as the Good Friday Earthquake, the disaster caused the loss of 131 lives, and hundreds of millions of dollars of damage.

    Another period of growth came in the 1970s with the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, a major source of revenue for the state. Many oil-production companies set up headquarters in Anchorage, providing a boost to its economy.

    In the 1980s and 90s, ski resorts and winter recreation areas were established in the area, providing Anchorage with its reputation as a major center of winter-sports tourism.