For thousands of years, Athabaskans, Eskimos and Inuit lived in the region that is now Fairbanks, making a living through fishing and hunting. It was not until 1867 that Secretary of State William Seward purchased Alaska from Russia, making it part of the United States. An expedition into the land’s interior was completed in 1885, and a small settlement of miners started a settlement near present-day Fairbanks a few years later. However, the land remained almost completely undeveloped until the Klondike Gold Rush in the early 1900s. One trader, E.T. Barnette, established an outpost in the Tanana Valley in 1901, which boomed into a prosperous business when gold was discovered here the following year. Prospectors rushed to the area in such large numbers that the town was incorporated as a city within two years and grew to be the largest city in Alaska (though Anchorage has since surpassed it).

Over the next few decades, roads and railways were built to make Fairbanks more accessible, a fact that has helped it become a main economic hub of Alaska. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which pumps millions of barrels of oil a day from North Shore, runs through Fairbanks. The city also started a college called the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines in 1917, which grew into the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and acted as a model for other schools in the University of Alaska system.