The Russians had been exploring Alaska since 1725. But with the British and the Americans both pushing westwards in the 19th century, Russia began to fear for its American territory, which had become a financial burden anyway.
Still bruised from its defeat in the Crimean War, Russia asked the United States in 1859 if it would be interested in buying Alaska. The US said it would, but before the two countries could shake on it, the American Civil War broke out.
With the Union victory in the bag, in March 1867 Russia sent its minister to the United States, Edouard de Stoeckl, to try again. William Seward, the secretary of state, replied once more in the affirmative. By the end of the month, a sale price of $7.2m had been agreed.
The purchase didn’t go down well with everybody back in Washington. Critics in the press complained it was a lot to pay for ice and snow, calling it “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s icebox”.
Others, however, were more enthusiastic, seeing it as another expression of ‘Manifest Destiny’ (the westwards expansion of the United States), as well as an opportunity to remove one more meddling European power from North America.
The senate lost no time in agreeing to the deal, and President Andrew Johnson put his name to the treaty in May. All that was left was for the United States to take formal possession of Alaska, which it did on 18 October that same year.
As for the nay-sayers, they were shortly to be silenced, when in 1896, gold was struck in the Klondike, leading to a gold rush that lasted until the end of the century.
And, of course, gold isn’t the only valuable resource. Oil and gas is today the state’s biggest industry, with one third of jobs employed in the sector.