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Monday, October 17, 2005

Alaska Sold To The United States, October 18, 1867

Today in 1867, the United States formally took possession of Alaska. This northern expanse would become the nation’s 49th state as well as a vast repository of natural resources. The purchase of Alaska for $7.2 million ($90 million in 2005 US dollars) was seen by some as a reckless waste of national funds, but time has proven that Alaska may have been the best real estate deal in the history of man.

The first humans to visit Alaska did so before recorded history. They crossed over from Asia via a land bridge which spanned the Bering Strait and made their way across the North and South American continents. It is believed that every native American group can trace their lineage back to people who traveled through Alaska.

The first Europeans to visit Alaska came from Russia. While the Czar’s explorers first reached the remote area in 1741, it was not until 1784 that a colony was established. In 1799 the Russian-American company was formed, mainly for the purpose of procuring sea otter fur. The Russians established trading posts all over Alaska, western Canada and the US Pacific northwest as far south as Fort Ross, a mere 50 miles north of San Francisco.

Despite their repeated attempts at profitability, financial success in Alaska eluded the Russians. US Secretary of State William Seward saw this as not only an opportunity to expand the size of United States, but to do so on the cheap. The two governments soon reached an agreement and the US Senate approved the purchase in April, 1867. Alaska became the 49th state on January 3rd, 1959.

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