The Seward’s Folly Purchase

The purchase of Alaska from Russia is often referred to as “Seward’s Folly” or “Seward’s Icebox“, named after William H. Seward, the U.S. Secretary of State who negotiated the deal. He was a member of the Republican Party.

William H. Seward
William H. Seward

The formal name of the agreement was the Alaska Purchase, and it took place in 1867.

The acquisition of Alaska was somewhat controversial at the time, and critics mocked Seward for what they saw as a wasteful expenditure.

The deal involved the United States paying Russia $7.2 million for the territory, which encompasses an area of about 586,000 square miles.

The purchase of Alaska had several significant implications:

  1. Strategic Importance: The U.S. government recognized the strategic importance of Alaska, particularly its proximity to the Russian Empire. At the time, there were concerns about potential Russian expansion into North America.
  2. Economic Potential: Although Alaska was initially seen by some as a frozen and barren wasteland, it later proved to be rich in natural resources such as timber, fish, and minerals. The discovery of gold in the late 19th century and later the development of oil resources contributed to the economic value of Alaska.
  3. Symbolic Value: The purchase of Alaska reflected the expansionist mindset of the United States during the 19th century. It was part of the broader movement of westward expansion, territorial acquisition, and the belief in the Manifest Destiny – the idea that the U.S. was destined to expand across the North American continent.

Over time, as the economic and strategic value of Alaska became apparent, public opinion shifted, and the purchase came to be seen as a wise decision.

In 1959, Alaska became the 49th state of the United States, and today it is celebrated for its natural beauty and resource wealth.

The term “Seward’s Folly” is now often used ironically to highlight how initial perceptions of a mistake can evolve over time.