I've had this post sitting in my drafts for about 3 months. I've decided to go ahead and publish the ones I have written in the hopes I will become motivated to write up more coins!
The second to last state to be admitted to the Union came aboard on January 3, 1959. Alaska's coin features a Grizzly Bear emerging from a waterfall with a salmon in its mouth, and the words "Great Land". The word great could be correctly interpreted in one of two ways when referring to Number 49. Alaska has the largest surface area of any state, and is also considered to be one of the most scenic states in the USA (65% of Alaskan land is federally classified as national forests, national parks, or national wildlife refuges). Alaska is the northernmost State and sits between the Pacific and Arctic Oceans, with its neighbour, Russia, across the Bering Strait (visible from at least one house, I hear). You'd be right to assume the local weather channels don't pull out the smiling sun animation too often; Juneau and the southeast panhandle are the only areas in Alaska to breach freezing temperatures in winter daytime hours. In fact, the word Alaska means, "the object towards which the action of the sea is directed". When that sea is the Arctic Ocean, you've got to expect a nippy wind chill. Not a population to be scared off by facial-feature-necrotising breezes, a whopping 4,078 of the denizens of Alaska live in Barrow, located a chilly 330 miles above the arctic circle.
Historically, native peoples such as the Aluet, Haida, Tlinglit, Tsimshian and Yup'ik lived happily in Alaska until boatfuls of smallpox-addled Europeans graced their shores. If you have a monthly EFT going to PETA, you may want to skip ahead a sentence or two. The region was originally a Russian territory, colonized somewhere in the 17th century. The "ruskies" prized the land for their thriving fur trade, until 1867 when America picked up the territory for an Everything-Must-Go-esque two cents per acre. A couple of pelts notwithstanding, this likely seemed like a fair trade at the time. However, caveat venditor, it turned out the whole area was basically a bit of icy soil floating about on a massive oil field punctuated by lumps of gold. Good news local wildlife, you can keep your pelts. Bad news, it might get coated in hydrocarbonic goo every now and then. State Capital: Juneau
Correctly spelt "Hawai'i" (I told you Hallowe'en wasn't the only word that has an apostrophe in it), the Aloha State was the last* horse across the finish line on August 21, 1959. The State coin features a map of the Islands, the State motto "Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka 'Āina I Ka Pono," (translation: try fitting this onto a license plate), and King Kamehameha reaching out his hand, presumably for a can of Spam, of which Hawaiians consume more per capita than people in any other State. The State coin may need updating someday, as the main island of Hawaii contains three active shield volcanoes all depositing heavy basalt, which causes the earth's crust to bend beneath it, and someday may lead to catastrophic detachment. On the plus side, this means Hawaii is still growing, so yay for real estate!
I really thought that if any State's history didn't follow the happy-natives-lived-here-until-the-Europeans-came storyline, it would be Hawaii. You can imagine my disappointment to learn that while James Cook was a little man-who-came-to-dinner in 1778 when he renamed the territory the Sandwich Islands, he really committed a faux pas on his return in 1779 when he attempted to abduct King Kalaniʻōpuʻu. On the heels of Cook's interest in the region, several European groups arrived to the islands, showering the inhabitants with bounties of smallpox, measles and the flu. Hawaii remained a kingdom until 1887, when a constitution stripping the king of much of his power was signed. Under McKinley, Hawaii was annexed by the US and gained statehood in 1959. Since then Hawaii has run the gamut of conservative (1993 ban on same-sex marriage) to progressive (Hawaii Prepaid Healthcare act). State Capital: Honolulu
*as of 2011; every so often you hear rumblings about Puerto Rico.