The Alaska Purchase

What was the Alaska Purchase?

The Alaska Purchase was the purchase of Alaska by the United States of America. USA purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867. This was a huge piece of land that became the largest state of USA upon purchase. In all, Alaska Purchase added around 590,000 square miles of territory to USA. Another very important feature of Alaska was that it had a huge shoreline spreading over 34,000 miles.


Alaska is situated to the West of Canada and by the early 19th century, it was under nominal control of Russia. Russians tried to establish colonies in the area but it was so cold and so remote from any other population that this proved impossible. Russia also feared that the British government in Canada may forcefully take control of Alaska and they preferred to give over the area to USA.

USA, on the other hand, wanted to make Alaska a part of its territory and had been trying to do this for some time. As early as 1823, American and Russian governments came to an agreement that no Russian colonies would be established on Alaska. Finally in 1867, the US government decided to pay $7.2 million to the Russian government and make Alaska a part of USA. At the time, the Senate and most of the population thought that this was a bad deal. But the Senate approved the purchase nevertheless and Alaska became a part of USA.

When did the purchase take place?

The purchase agreement between USA and Russia was signed on March 30, 1867. The actual transfer of the territory from Russian control to US control took place on October 18, 1867. It took place during the Presidency of Andrew Johnson. During the negotiations for the purchase, USA was represented by the Secretary of State, William H. Seward. After the transfer of territory, the U.S. Congress approved $7.2 million as a payment to Russia on July 14, 1868.

Why did so many people oppose the Alaska Purchase?

Alaska is a very cold region. At the time of the Alaska Purchase, this area had nearly no population and no infrastructure whatsoever. For this reason, many people thought that buying such a piece of land was a waste of money. As a result, many people started calling it ‘Seward’s Folly’, after the name of the Secretary of State William H. Seward who negotiated the purchase. It was also named ‘Seward’s Icebox’ and ‘Andrew Johnson’s Polar Bear Garden’.

Was it a bad deal?

At the time, it looked like a bad deal. Many people thought that a huge sum of money had simply been wasted on a piece of land which had no use. But by the end of the 19th century, large deposits of gold were discovered in Alaska. This led to the famous Klondike Gold Rush and proved that the Alaska Purchase was after all a good deal. Later in the 20th century, Alaska also proved as an important military and strategic part of USA further proving that this was a great deal for the USA.

The United States Enters the World Stage: From the Alaska Purchase through World War I, 1867–1919

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