Written by the editors at Bamfacts - Sept. 17th, 2017
The Alaska Purchase was the transfer of Alaska from the Russian empire to the United States in 1867.
In 1741, Danish explorer Vitus Bering, who was tasked by Russia to lead the Second Kamchatka Expedition (AKA the Great Northern Expedition nowadays). The goal of the expedition was to look for any geographical connections between Asia and North America, and to explore northern Asia.
During the expedition, he and his crew made landfall on many small islands, the Alaskan Peninsula (the Aleutian Islands) and on the southern coast of Alaska (near Mt. St. Elias), from where they were able to gather fur from otters, foxes, and seals.
Side note: Bering visited other places during the expedition, which didn't have anything to do with Alaska.
Seeing that provisions were low, Bering decided to turn back for Russia. After traveling for a few days, he confused a nearby island with the Russian mainland. There, Bering (who was already suffering from scurvy) and a few dozen of his crewmates died. That island is now called the Bering Island.
The survivors from Bering's crew returned to Russia, bringing the otter pelts with them. To their surprise, the pelts turned out to be of incredible value. This is what sparked Russia's interest in the colonization of Alaska.
The first voyages to Alaska after Bering's crew returned to Russia were organized by Russian investors and entrepreneurs hoping to make money from the fur trading business.
However, sending ships from and to Alaska was very expensive. To solve this, the Northeastern Company, headed by Russian entrepreneur Grigory I. Shelikov, created the first permanent Russian outpost in 1784 on what is today Kodiak Island. Other companies soon followed suit.
In 1799, the Northeastern Company merged with all other companies, to create the Russian-American Company. The Russian-American was state-sponsored by the Russian government.
The Russians were hunting the surrounding wildlife so vigorously, that by the 1850s it had become extremely difficult to find any animals which fur had value.
To make matters worse, Russia had just lost the Crimean War (1853-1856), in which it fought against Britain.
Since the British presence in North America was expanding towards Alaska, Russia realised that another military conflict with Great Britain could result in the capture of its colonies in Alaska.
To make matters even worse, Russia was suffering a great economic crisis as a result of the Crimean War, and needed money quick.
The Alaska Purchase
In 1859, Russia tried selling Alaska to the United States. The US objected, however, as the country was only two years away from the American Civil War.
In 1867, after the war was over, Russia approached the US again, and Secretary of State William H. Seward expressed interest.
Seward believed in the expansion of US territory (he also wanted the US to purchase Hawaii).
In April 1867, the Senate approved of the acquisition of Alaska. Alaska was to be purchased for $7.2 million dollars (not in today's money).
On May 28, 1867, the Alaska deal was officially confirmed, with US president President Andrew Johnson signing the purchase treaty, and the formal transfer ceremony was held on October 18th, 1867 at Sitka, Alaska.
It is worth noting the William H. Seward received some backlash from the public (some even naming the Alaska purchase "Seward's folly" or "Seward's Icebox"), but in the 1890s gold was discovered (resulting in the Alaskan Gold Rush), which quickly changed any doubt the public had about the purchase. Alaska is also rich in other natural resources (natural gas, oil, coal, and other precious metals besides gold) (a).