Wednesday marks the 150th anniversary of the US taking possession of Alaska following the 1867 purchase of the territory from Russia.
The idea of an “Alaska Purchase” saw a renaissance last month, when the phrase was borrowed to describe the possibility of sweeteners in the GOP health care bill meant to woo Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The bill did not receive enough support to come to a vote.
The original Alaska Purchase is commemorated every year on October 18, a state holiday known as “Alaska Day.” The transfer of the land was marked by a ceremony in Sitka, which now hosts an annual Alaska Day Festival.
Russia began exploring the Alaskan coast in the mid 1700s, according to the State Department’s Office of the Historian. The land was sparsely populated and resource-rich, and became a site of competition between Russian and American settlers in the early 1800’s. However, Russia did not maintain major settlements or military outposts on the land, according the the Office of the Historian.
In 1859, Russia offered to sell Alaska to the United States in an attempt to snub their rival, Great Britain, but the sale of the land was delayed by the US Civil War.
In March 1867, Secretary of State William Seward negotiated a deal with Russian Minister to the US Edouard de Stoeckl to purchase “Russian America” for $7.2 million – or $113 million in today’s dollars, according to Smithsonian.com.
The two signed the Treaty of Cession on March 30, the Senate approved it on April 9 and President Andrew Johnson signed it into law on May 28.
The land was officially transferred to the United States on October 18, 1867. According to a dispatch from the day by Gen. Lovell Rousseau, who oversaw the transfer for the US, several hundred Russian and American troops and dignitaries gathered for the ceremony. The Russia imperial flag was lowered and the American flag was raised amid a great deal of fanfare.
“I acknowledged the acceptance of the transfer, and the ceremony was at an end. Three cheers were then spontaneously given for the United States flag by the American citizens present,” Rousseau recounted to Seward.
The sale of Alaska to the US marked the end of Russia’s efforts to expand trade to North America’s Pacific coast and increased the size of America’s land holdings by nearly 600,000 square miles, according to the National Archives. However, the appropriation of funding for the purchase was not approved until 1868 due to opposition in the House of Representatives, according to the Library of Congress.
Critics of the deal nicknamed it “Seward’s Folly,” “Seward’s Icebox,” and Johnson’s “Polar Bear Garden.” They panned the use of government money for land they perceived as worthless.
“Ninety-nine hundredths of Russian America are absolutely useless,” the Holt County Sentinel wrote at the time.
“Unfortunately for our treasury and our tax-payers, there is no diplomatic glory to be got out of accepting” Alaska, it was written in the New York Tribune.
Settlement on the land was slow, and a civil government was not established there until 1884.
It was not until the discovery of gold in the Yukon in the late 1890s and subsequent Gold Rush that the population and value of the area grew. Alaska was granted territorial status in 1912.
It voted in favor of statehood in 1912, adopted a state constitution in 1959, and officially became a state in 1959.
This story has been updated.
CNN’s Leigh Munsil, Tami Luhby and MJ Lee contributed to this report.