Alaska was Russian until Oct 18, 1867, and the 150th anniversary of the formal transfer of the territory to the United States will stoke bitterness in Russia. Alaskans, meanwhile, will celebrate the wily deal, which was signed on Mar 30, 1867.
The New York Times observed on the anniversary of the sale that it represented "a day of mourning for some hard-right Russian nationalists who see the transaction as a gigantic blunder by the ailing czarist empire, one that reverberates as the major powers vie for influence over the Arctic and its natural riches in an age of climate change."
The cost and logistical difficulties of supplying the territory had made it an economic liability to the Russians, who were additionally struggling with debt accrued during the disastrous Crimean War (1853-56).
Seeing the giant Alaska territory as a chance to expand the size of the nation, then-Secretary of State William H. Seward negotiated the purchase of the vast territory north of Canada - some 586,412 square miles of land, equal to nearly a fifth of the continental United States - for less than 2 cents an acre.
Encyclopedia Britannica notes that some newspapers savaged the decision, calling the new territory Seward's Icebox, Seward's Folly, and Walrussia. Legislators swayed by reports of the territory's abundant natural resources and other factors helped push through the purchase.
Settlers were drawn to the area and the population grew sufficiently for the territory to apply for statehood. That was granted in 1959, since when the population as increased from 224,000 to 739,828 - still a small number for the largest state in the Union.
Date written/update: 2017-04-14