Secretary of State William Seward initiated and facilitated the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. Seward convinced the U.S. Senate to buy 600,000 square miles of land and ice for about $7.2 million dollars (equivalent to about 90 million dollars today). Alaska was formally purchased on April 9, 1867 – two years after the end of the Civil War. The senate approved the measure by only vote.
Despite the fact that Alaska would become one of the best bargains in U.S. history, the purchase of Alaska was referred to as “Seward’s Folly” in the 1860’s and 1870’s. Most people saw Alaska as a desolate wasteland that would never be settled. In 1896, however, Seward’s investment paid off. Gold was discovered near the Klondike River, which immediately set off a frenzied gold rush. Today Alaska is a state with abundant natural resources such as timber, coal, petroleum, gas, and salmon. Hundreds of thousands of people each year visit Alaska’s national parks or take cruises along its coastlines to see its beautiful scenery and wildlife. The Alaska Purchase was one of the best bargains in American history.