On March 30, 1867, Secretary of State William H. Seward agreed to purchase Alaska for seven million dollars. Critics attacked Seward 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" and Andrew Johnson's "polar bear garden."
Under the aegis of explorer Vitus Jonassen Bering, Russia established a presence in Alaska in the early eighteenth 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 Abraham Lincoln and Andrew 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 upper house ratified the treaty by just one vote
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 Islands during World War II--one of few battles on U.S. soil since the Civil War. 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.
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