The purchase of Alaska may have been one of the smartest financial investments the United States ever made. Russia's sale of the more than 1.5 million square kilometers of wilderness was finalized on 18 October 1867.
For the Russians, the $7.2 million sales price helped ease financial difficulties back home. For the United States, the value of the new purchase was unclear.
<!-- IMAGE -->
The U.S. Secretary of State at the time, William Seward, was an expansionist, in favor of moving influence of the new nation further west toward Asia. Historians also note in acquiring a significant land mass on the flank of British interests in British Columbia would give the United States a vital edge in any future disagreements with the British in the region.
To many Americans, the purchase was deemed foolish -- a waste of money on such a remote region. The project became jokingly named "Seward's Folly" or "Seward's Ice Box."
What eventually tipped the balance in favor of Seward's position was money. The Russians, fearing they could lose the territory in a war with the British without any compensation, sent an emissary to the United States to convince Congress to appropriate the funds needed to finalize the purchase.
"(The emissary) was very handy with handing out money and convinced a number of senators for the Russians to sell Alaska to the United States was a good idea," said American University professor Anna Nelson.
The wisdom of the acquisition of Alaska was soon confirmed by the discovery of gold, and later of vast reserves of natural resources, especially oil. "Who could have guessed what was underneath all that frozen ice," said Nelson. "It was a tremendous investment."
In 1959, Alaska became the 49th U.S. state. Today it is home to an estimated 700,000 people. Ted Landphair contributed to the article