This day in history, March 30, 1867, the United States of America bought Alaska from Russia for $7.2 Million. That equates to just about 2 cents per acre.
The European discovery of Alaska came in 1741, with a Russian expedition led by Danish navigator Vitus Bering. Russian hunters were soon making trips to Alaska. In 1784, Grigory Shelikhov established the first permanent Russian colony in Alaska on Kodiak Island. In the early 19th century, Russian settlements spread down the west coast of North America, with the southernmost fort located near Bodega Bay in California.
Russian activity in the "New World" declined in the 1820s, and the British and Americans were granted trading rights in Alaska after a few minor diplomatic conflicts. In the 1860s, Russia (nearly bankrupt) decided to offer Alaska for sale to the United States, which earlier had expressed interest in purchasing the land. On March 30, 1867, Secretary of State William H. Seward signed a treaty with Russia for the purchase of Alaska for $7.2 million. The Alaskan purchase was ridiculed in Congress and in the press as “Seward’s folly,” “Seward’s icebox,” and President Andrew Johnson’s “polar bear garden.” Nevertheless, the Senate ratified purchase of the tremendous landmass, one-fifth the size of the rest of the United States.
Though the settlement start was slow by Americans from the continental United States, the discovery of gold in 1898 brought a rapid influx of people to the territory. Alaska, rich in natural resources, is one of the wealthiest states and has been contributing to American prosperity ever since.
Just in terms of wealth, the U.S. gained about 370 million acres of mostly pristine wilderness, including 220 million acres of what are now federal parks and wildlife refuges. Hundreds of billions of dollars in whale oil, fur, copper, gold, timber, fish, platinum, zinc, lead and petroleum have been produced in Alaska over the years.
After just under 92 years after the purchase of Alaska, President Eisenhower signed a special proclamation admitting the territory of Alaska into the Union as the 49th and largest state on January 3, 1959.