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This place has also been more familiarly called "Seward's Icebox" and "Seward's Folly." On March 30, 1867, Secretary of State William H. Seward agreed to purchase Alaska for $7 million. Critics attacked him for the secrecy surrounding the deal with Russia, which came to be known as "Seward's folly." They mocked his willingness to spend so much on "Seward's icebox" or President Andrew Johnson's "polar bear garden."

Portrait of Secretary of State William H. Seward, officer of the United States government "Seward, Alaska, 1915," 1915.

Under the aegis of explorer Vitus Jonassen Bering, Russia established a presence in Alaska in the early 18th century. Russia initially approached the United States about selling the territory during President James Buchanan's administration, but the Civil War stalled negotiations. Seward, secretary of state under Presidents Lincoln and Johnson, supported American expansion and was eager to acquire Alaska. However, convincing the Senate that Alaska was an important addition to the United States proved difficult. The Senate ratified the treaty by just one vote in 1867; the territory was purchased for $7.2 million -- or less than 2 cents per acre!

The discovery of gold in the late 1890s increased Alaska's value as a U.S. possession and boosted its population. In 1912 the region was granted territorial status. The political situation stagnated until Japan invaded the Aleutian Islands of Agattu, Attu and Kiska during World War II. U.S. response to the threat included construction of the Alcan Highway and an increased military presence in the region.

Alaskans approved statehood in 1946 and adopted a state constitution in 1955. On January 3, 1959, President Eisenhower announced Alaska's entrance into the Union as the 49th state.

You can read more details about the largest state in the March 30 entry of Today in History, a Web site with interesting details about every day of the year.

The Alaska pages in the "Explore the States" section of the America's Library Web site will give you basic information on the state's history, state nickname and state flower as well as several stories about its unique culture. Events such as the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race are famous worldwide. If you go to the March 20 entry for Today in History, you can read about the first woman to win the Iditarod.


A. [Portrait of Secretary of State William H. Seward, officer of the United States government], between 1860 and 1865. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-DIG-cwpb-04948 DLC (b&w copy scan), LC-B8172-1431 DLC (b&w film neg.); Call No: LC-B813- 1431A <P&P>

B. F.W. Sheelor, photographer. "Seward, Alaska, 1915," 1915. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-87162 DLC (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: PAN US GEOG - Alaska no. 5

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