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American History - December 11, 2015

An interested citizen provided this possible redesign for the 50-star flag, once Alaska and Hawaii were officially made states. (Image via the Eisenhower Presidential Library Archives)

Q: Dwight Eisenhower went from working in the small Kansas town of Abilene all the way to working in the White House. And, as president, he made the United States a much larger nation. With the stroke of a pen, what TWO THINGS did Ike do to increase the size of the country.


A: Admitted Alaska and Hawaii to the nation as the 49th and 50th states

When Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower entered the White House in 1953, he was in charge of 48 states. By the time he left office in 1961, two more states had been added and two more stars were sewn on the American flag to represent Alaska and Hawaii.

During his presidential campaign in 1952, Eisenhower pushed for statehood for both Alaska and Hawaii. He wanted to add both to the Union but wanted Hawaii added first. Congress, however, wanted Alaska admitted first, because Alaskan oil would help the nation's economy. Although Ike appreciated the value of Alaska’s natural resources, he was afraid that statehood would interfere with the federal government's ability to establish defense installations in the territory closest to Soviet Russia. Hawaii possessed defense installations that were equally important to national security, but many in Congress were concerned about adding Hawaii’s predominantly non-white population to the Union.

In the end, Congress won. Alaska was admitted as the 49th state, followed by Hawaii as the 50th. Alaska became a state in January 1959. Eight months later, Hawaii joined the Union.

So, in addition to launching NASA and building the Interstate Highway System, we can also thank Dwight Eisenhower for making America a much larger and more complete nation.

Fun Factoid: The second governor of Alaska was Wally Hickel, who grew up in Barton County, Kansas! He actually served as Alaska's governor twice.

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