The word Adak is from the Aleut word adaq, which means "father."
Adak Island has been the home to Aleut peoples since ancient times. Russian explorers in the 1700s also visited the island but made no permanent settlements. During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army took control of two of the most western Aleutian Islands - Attu and Kiska. The Japanese also attacked the American base at Dutch Harbor by air. In response, the United States military began a campaign to unseat the invaders. Since the nearest US military presence was in Cold Bay, Alaska, the military began to construct bases in the western Aleutian Islands from which to launch operations against the Japanese. Adak Island was chosen as the site of an airfield, and flight operations began in September 1942. In May, 1943, American soldiers landed on Attu Island and defeated the Japanese garrison there, with 2,300 Japanese and 550 American deaths recorded. Expecting a similar battle for Kiska Island, soldiers landing there found that the occupiers had been stealthily evacuated by Japanese naval forces. Even so, over 313 American soldiers died from friendly fire, mines, and other anti-personnel devices.
After the war was over, the approximately 6,000 American military men who served on Adak at the height of World War II activity would recall Adak's cold, foggy, windy weather; mud; Quonset huts; few women and no trees; and a volcano that from time to time would issue puffs of smoke. Fresh food was a rarity.
Adak Naval Air Station continued to be a military base during the Cold War but was designated a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) site in 1995 and closed in March 1997. Shortly thereafter, the town of Adak, Alaska, was incorporated at the site of the former base. Down from a peak population of 6000, the island recorded a 2000 census population of 316 residents, all in the city of Adak, in the northern part of the island. In 1980, the Aleutian Islands National Wildlife Refuge was created and much of Adak Island lies within its boundaries.
The January 2006 National Geographic magazine presents pictures of the Sea-based X-band Radar in tow around Cape Horn to Adak for the purpose of anti-ballistic missile space surveillance. This operation may require 100 well-paid technicians. Google Earth pictures the long-time Naval Air Base infrastructure to be located at .
The Adak School serves grades K-12.