On March 30, 1867, the United States signed a treaty to buy what would later become its largest state. U.S. Secretary of State William Seward agreed to pay $7.2 million to Russia for Alaska.
Russia had established permanent settlements in Alaska beginning in the late 1700s. (At the time, the area was already home to tens of thousands of Native Alaskans.) But after losing an expensive war with England and France in the 1850s, Russia badly needed money. Its leaders turned to the U.S. to sell the territory, and Seward was eager to buy. He thought that having a huge territory along the northern Pacific Ocean would make it easier for the U.S. to trade with countries in Asia. Though much of Alaska was unexplored, the U.S. believed it had abundant (plentiful) resources that could lead to a boom in the fur trade, fishing, logging (the cutting down of trees), and other industries.
The Alaska Purchase was approved quickly by the U.S. Senate and signed by President Andrew Johnson.
However, some newspapers poked fun at the deal, nicknaming it Seward’s Folly. (Folly means “foolish act.”) Critics believed the land was worthless—nothing more than snow and ice.
But any question about Alaska’s value was forgotten after several major discoveries of gold during the 1880s and 1890s. As word spread, an estimated 100,000 people flocked there, hoping to strike it rich.
Alaska was considered a U.S. territory before it officially became the 49th state in 1959.
Today, Alaska is still recognized for its wealth of natural resources. Two of its biggest industries are oil and fishing. Each year, nearly 2 million people visit Alaska to see its scenic national parks and abundant wildlife, including grizzly bears, moose, bald eagles, and whales.