American West •  History and Politics

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Completing the Union: Alaska, Hawai'i, and the Battle for Statehood

John Whitehead

As late as mid-1941 the two territories of Alaska and Hawai'i were little known by most Americans. Alaska was seen as a frozen wasteland and Hawai'i, an exotic outpost in the mid-Pacific with a multi-racial, particularly Asian, population. The bombing of Pearl Harbor in late 1941 and the capture of two Aleutian Islands in 1942 made the two territories central theaters of World War II. Thousands of Americans came to know Alaska and Hawai'i as never before.
Once the war ended both territories hoped that statehood would be their reward for such loyal wartime service. Their strategic locations pointed to an increased national involvement in the Pacific and Asia. The 49th and 50th states would eventually be admitted, but it took thirteen years, from 1946 to 1959, to do it. The long delay was caused by many of the events of the Cold War. Both territories became enmeshed in the national politics of anti-communism, radical labor movements, and Arctic policy to resist a Soviet air attack across the polar North. A cadre of statehood supporters emerged to make their case to the nation, including the young Daniel Inouye of Hawai'i and Ted Stevens of Alaska, both of whom would become two of the most powerful senators in Congress.


Howard R. Lamar is Sterling Professor Emeritus of History at Yale and a former president of that university.

Martin Ridge is a senior research associate in the Henry E. Huntington Library. He has taught at San Diego State University, Indiana University, and the California Institute of Technology. He is the former editor of the Journal of American History and the past president of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association and Western History Association. He is the author of numerous scholarly and review articles dealing with the American West. He is the coeditor of Histories of the American Frontier.

David J. Weber is The Robert and Nancy Dedman Professor of History and the Director of the Clements Center for Southwest Studies at Southern Methodist University.

John S. Whitehead retired from the history department of University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and resides in Athens, Georgia.


"The territories were always on the fringe of American society until World War II, when they became the front lines of defense. Even so, it took 13 years of lobbying against anti-communist hysteria and cultural blindness to admit the last two states to the union. History professor Whitehead thoroughly covers the political battle at each awkward step."


Honolulu Star-Bulletin

"John S. Whitehead has written a monumental history that traces the separate but interconnected paths that Alaska and Hawai'i took to achieve statehood in 1958 and 1959."


Alaska History

"John Whitehead's Completing the Union weaves together the hitories of the 20th century statehood movements in Hawai'i and alaska, connecting them to each other and to the outside world. . . Completing the Union is a useful first encounter with those people and with the topic in genereal."


The Hawaiian Journal of History

"In his well written book Completting the Union, retired University of Alaska history professor John S. Whitehead makes a substantial contribution to the understanding the statehood process."


History: Reviews of New Books

6 x 9 in. 456 pages 53 halftones, 4 maps