Alaska Purchase

The check used by the United States to purchase Alaska at less than 2 cents an acre
The check used by the United States to purchase Alaska at less than 2 cents an acre

Historical Context

As Russia completed its eastward expansion through Siberia, the country inevitably crossed the Bering Strait and established a presence in the northern Americas. This territory, first settled in the early 17th century, was known as Alaska, but very few Russians ever moved there.

Russia was damaged militarily by its defeat in the Crimean War, in which Britain and its ally France defeated the Empire. Russian Tsar Alexander II began looking for ways to sell Alaska to America, especially as the territory would be impossible to defend if Britain decided to attack it. (Britain held Canada as a colony at the time of the sale.)

After the American Civil War concluded, negotiations began on selling Alaska to America, though opinion in both countries was against the deal. Many Russians did not want to give away a territory where gold had been discovered, and Americans did not want an 'ice-box' where very few people lived.

On March 30, 1867, the two countries agreed on a purely symbolic sum of $7.2 million ($109 million in 2018), about 2 cents an acre. America had purchased 586,412 square miles (1,518,800 km2) of territory. Alaska would not be admitted as a state to the Union until 1959, and it remained sparsely populated until a gold rush in the late 19th century.

Document Info


Author(s): US National Archives
Location signed: Sitka, Alaska, USA

Related Events

  • 1867-03-30 Alaska Purchase: US buys Alaska from Russia for $7,200,000 ($109 million in 2018), roughly 2 cents an acre
  • 1867-06-20 US President Andrew Johnson announces the Alaska Purchase
  • 1867-10-18 Alaska Purchase: US takes formal possession of Alaska from Russia, having paid $7.2 million

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