This Day in History - October 18

If you were to pick a U.S. state you think people generally know little to nothing about, which one comes to mind?  If you're like me, Alaska, which became the 49th state in 1959, is a sure contender. Alaska is derived from the Aleut word "alyeska," which stands for "great land."

On this day in 1867, the United States formally took possession of what became the largest state in the country after buying the territory from Russia for $7.2 million.

Most people assume Texas is the largest U.S. state, but Alaska is roughly twice the size of the Lone Star State in area and about one-fifth the size of the contiguous 48 states combined.

So why would Russia want to sell its Alaska territory in the first place?

For starters, it was remote, sparsely populated, and hard to defend. Russia preferred selling it to the United States than risk losing it in battle with a rival like Great Britain.

Negotiations between secretary of state William Seward and the Russian minister to the U.S., Eduard de Stoeckl, began in 1867. But the American public deemed the land barren and worthless, derisively calling it "Seward's Folly," among other names.

Having an unpopular president like Andrew Johnson, who became president upon Lincoln's death, in the White House didn't help Seward's cause. Eventually, though, Congress did ratify the deal.

Public opinion of the purchase became more positive when gold was found in a tributary of Alaska's Klondike River in 1896, igniting a gold rush.

Now recognized for its vast natural resources, Alaska today contributes 25 percent of the country's oil and over half of its seafood.

Alaska has two official state holidays to celebrate its origins. Seward's Day, observed the last Monday in March, marks the March 30, 1867, signing of the land treaty between the U.S. and Russia. And Alaska Day, observed every October 18, commemorates the anniversary of the land transfer.

No comments: