Early Years as Territory of the United States

Russian America was sold to the United States in 1867 due partly to Russia's setback in the Crimean War. Before the congressional appropriations debate, the United States sent a Coast Survey party to survey the region; USCS Assistant George Davidson identified the Aleutian Islands as an agricultural frontier, citing its luxuriant foliage and its mild winter climate. Davidson's map functioned as an important visual aid in the ensuing congressional debate; with it, Senator Charles Sumner illustrated the geopolitical importance of Alaska, as well as the position of the Aleutians along the Great Circle Route toward Asian markets.

Another Coast Survey party, led by William Healey Dall, created charts of the Aleutians 1872-1874, although he also gave the first major reports about the difficulties of the Aleutian climate. Other scientists followed, such as the vulcanologist Thomas Jaggar, although he would later leave this field for the more hospitable climate of Hawaii.

When the fur seal population in the Bering Sea reached an all-time low, the 1911 Bering Sea Tribunal created an international management plan. By 1913, the Aleutian Islands were recognized as a crucial habitat for marine and avifaunal species, and the government designated much of the chain as a National Wildlife Refuge. While mainland Alaska began extensive development, few economic ventures boomed in the Aleutians. Instead, the most productive work revolved around anthropological and biological research, with researchers such as Vladimir Il'ich Iokhel'son (Waldemar Jochelson in English) recording the Aleut language, Ales Hrdlicka researching Aleut physical anthropology, and Eric Hulten and Olaus Murie completing biological surveys.

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