Commercial whaling in the United States dates to the 17th century in New England, with a peak between the years of 1846–1852.
The whaling industry targeted the harvest of three different raw materials from whales: whale oil, spermaceti oil (the prized oily wax from the head of the Sperm whale), and whalebone (baleen). Whale oil was the result of "trying-out" or rendering whale blubber by heating it in water. It was a primary lubricant for machinery, which was critical during the Industrial Revolution. Also, during the 19th century, whale oil lamps were popular in upper middle class and wealthy American homes.
In Alaska, the commercial whaling industry started in the 1830s and continued to the beginning of the 20th century when commercial treaties and depleted stocks saw a decline in commercial viability. However, whale oil was rapidly supplanted by petroleum.
The first commercial discovery of oil in Alaska was at Katalla, located 47 miles southeast of Cordova. The next major oil discovery was on the Swanson River near Kenai in 1957, which helped spur Statehood as well as the State’s selection of lands under the Statehood Act. Due to interest in oil and the existence of proven reserves on federal land the state strategically selected adjacent lands and started offering oil companies exploratory rights. In 1968, Humble Oil discovered the largest oil field in North America, which kick-started an economic boom in Alaska.
Alaska has been supplying the US with oil for almost two centuries.
Anchorage Museum Collection, 1984.9.2ab
Ward Wells Collection, Anchorage Museum, B1983.91.S4560.10