Though well established as a part of the United States since being incorporated as a state in 1959, Alaska was not always an American possession. Starting in the first part of the seventeenth century, the Russian Empire claimed the territory that constituted Alaska for its own. Efforts were made over time to establish more of a colonial presence in North America, especially given the short distance from it to Russian territory, but few Russians would ever settle there. In the aftermath of the disastrous Crimean War, and without the manpower to defend their North American territory from any future conflicts with Britain or other countries, Czar Alexander II began to entertain thoughts of selling Alaska to another country.
After the conclusion of the US Civil War, then Secretary of State William Seward approached Russian Minister Eduard de Stoeckl with an offer to purchase Alaska. After some haggling, the agreement would see the purchase of 586,412 square miles of territory to be integrated into the US for the price of $7.2 million dollars. This amounts to roughly $12.27 per square mile.
In US the purchase brought hopes of being a way to facilitate greater trade with Asia, though it would not begin to see greater population gains until 1896 when the Klondike Gold Rush began. Gold has ever since been mined from the state, and as recently as 2015 some $1.01 billion of the shiny metal accounted for 37% of the mining wealth Alaska brings the United States. Interestingly enough, apparently recent information has come to light that the Czar originally offered the sale of Alaska to the Prince of Liechtenstein before ultimately selling to the United States. If this first offer of sale had gone through, the map of North America would look far different today.
Interested in learning more about the history of territory acquisition by the United States? Check out this article: