On October 18, 1867, a mere 145 years ago, the U.S. took possession of Alaska after purchasing the territory from Russia for the insignificant amount (by today’s standards) of $7.2 million. If the Russians had decided to keep it you can rest assured that they would have been drilling for oil and we would be buying it from them.
Alaska is about twice the size of Texas at 586,412 square miles and the purchase was led by William Seward, secretary of state for President Andrew Johnson.
So why did they buy it? Russia wanted to sell its remote and sparsely populated Alaska territory to the U.S. rather than risk losing it in battle with a rival like Great Britain. And, would you believe, the American public believed the land to be barren and worthless and labeled the purchase “Seward’s Folly” and “Andrew Johnson’s Polar Bear Garden”. There were other derogatory names, which were probably due to the fact that Andrew Johnson was not a popular president.
Johnson battled with radical Republicans in Congress over reconstruction policies after the Civil War and was impeached in 1869, but was later acquitted by a single vote. Congress did however ratify the Alaska deal.
As you might guess, public opinion of the purchase turned more favorable when gold was discovered in a tributary of the Klondike River in 1896—the gold rush to Alaska was on.
Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959, and is now recognized for it’s vast natural resources. It holds 25% of America’s oil and over 50% of its seafood can be found there. It is also the largest state in the area at about one-fifth the size of the lower 48 combined.
The name Alaska is derived from the Aleut word alyeska, which means “great land”.