The sale of Alaska to the US by the Czar of Russia

What’s the caper on this? Did he really do it because he was broke?

This is all I could find:

I did see something about Bush wanting to sell it back to them, because Russia wouldn’t have any compunctions about drilling for oil.


Sounds like a bargain. Did they just have no idea of how much it was worth?

It wasn’t worth much at the time. There were a few Orthodox missions there, and trappers made decent enough money from seal pelts, but at that point, the interior was too cold for settlement, it was too far away from European Russia, which had the big population centers, no big gold deposits had been discovered yet, and no one knew that Alaska contained oil, and there wasn’t a big market for oil, besides. The general consensus in the US is that we were ripped off. Alaska got the nicknames “Seward’s Icebox” (after the secretary of state) and “Andy Johnon’s Polar Bear Garden”.

That’s “Johnson”, of course.

In 1867 Alaska wasn’t worth very much, especially to the Russians. Gold had not been discovered, oil had no value and what Alaska did have; namely pelts and timber, had to be transported all the way accross Siberia to reach European markets.
My understanding is that the negotiations for the sale began years earlier when Russia was at war with Britain and was afraid that Britain would raise a small army in Canada and simply take Alaska. Russia couldn’t really defend Alaska because of the distance, so they created a situation where a British attack on Alaska would be an attack on US interests as well as Russian interests.
I’m not certain why they went through with the sale, but in general Russia always had economic problems; and the Crimean War and freeing the Serfs didn’t help their economy.


One of my favorite early nicknames I’d heard of for Alaska was “Walrussia.” (No joke.)

I decided to get off my arse and look for myself.

I found the “treaty between the United States of America and his Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias” at this url:
which is a fascinating read. For Example, Article III reads:

So, either you moved across the Bering Strait within 3 years, or you became a US citizen.

From :

So, looks like it was Seward’s baby, confirmed by :

If anyone knows of any historical research on this, I’d be obliged. The entire event is very interesting.

Try and get a copy of this book by a distinguished American historian:

It’s “The Conquest of a Continent”, the story of Russia’s amazing expansion across Siberia, and includes the Alaska story from a russian perspective.