THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: MARCH 30, 1868

United States Purchases Alaska

In 1866, the Russian government offered to sell the territory of Alaska to the United States. Secretary of State William H. Seward, enthusiastic about the prospect of American expansion, negotiated the deal for the Americans. Edouard de Stoeckl, Russian minister to the United States, negotiated for the Russians. On March 30, 1867, the two parties agreed that the United States would pay Russia $7.2 million for the territory of Alaska.

For less than 2 cents an acre, the United States acquired nearly 600,000 square miles. Opponents of the Alaska Purchase persisted in calling it “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox” until 1896, when the great Klondike Gold Strike convinced even the harshest critics that Alaska was a valuable addition to American territory.

In 1993, when Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky announce that Russia should take Alaska back, he inspired Jim Borgman of The Cincinnati Enquirer to produce an editorial cartoon with then President Clinton calling the National Archives saying, “Hello, National Archives? We’ve got to find that receipt.”

The Archives not only has the receipt, they have the cancelled check.

Bredhoff, Stacey. (2001.). American originals. Washington, D.C. : National Archives Trust Fund Board in association with The University of Washington Press.


Learn more about the purchase of Alaska »

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