One of my favorite academic subjects in grade school was geography. I always found fascinating the compilations of facts about various places in the world, some of which stretch the imagination almost to the breaking point.
The state of Alaska is a case in point. Consider the following.
- Alaska was purchased from Russia on March 30, 1867, for $7.2 million dollars at approximately two cents per acre. The land went through several administrative changes before becoming an organized (or incorporated), territory on May 11, 1912, and the 49th state of the U.S. on January 3, 1959.
- Alaska’s territorial waters touch Russia’s territorial waters in the Bering Strait, as the Russian Big Diomede Island and Alaskan Little Diomede Island are only 3 miles (4.8 km) apart. With the extension of the Aleutian Islands into the eastern hemisphere, it is technically both the westernmost and easternmost state in the United States, as well as also being the northernmost.
On a more micro scale consider just the following three facts:
- The state of Alaska is 429 times larger than the state of Rhode Island. But Rhode Island has a significantly larger population than Alaska.
- Alaska has a longer coastline than all of the other 49 U.S. states put together.
- The city of Juneau, Alaska is about 3,000 square miles large. It is actually bigger than the entire state of Delaware.
From an historic perspective the purchase of Alaska from Russia in the aftermath of the US Civil War, was seen in some quarters as an unmitigated piece of foolishness. What became known as “Seward’s folly” (after U.S. Secretary of State, William Seward who pushed for and negotiated the sale), was perhaps best expressed by the newspaper, the New York World which said that: “…it was a ‘sucked orange.’ It contained nothing of value but furbearing animals, and these had been hunted until they were nearly extinct. Except for the Aleutian Islands and a narrow strip of land extending along the southern coast the country would be not worth taking as a gift… Unless gold were found in the country much time would elapse before it would be blessed with Hoe printing presses, Methodist chapels and a metropolitan police. It was ‘a frozen wilderness.”
Given the importance of Alaska to the strategic and economic interests of the United States it makes one wonder what our world might look like if the purchase had not been made.
***This article was written by one of our contributing writers: Malcolm Noden