William Seward, U.S. Secretary of State, signs a treaty with Russia to purchase the vast landmass of Alaska, adding over half a million square miles to the U.S.
He had trouble convincing Congress of the value of the deal, even with a purchase price of about two cents an acre. The Senate finally ratified the deal by just one vote. Congress and the press called it “Seward’s Folly” and President Andrew Jacksons “polar bear garden.”
The territory was slow to become populated by the U.S. citizenry (only about 2000 people lived there in 1867), but when gold was discovered about 30 years later, there became a huge influx of people to the new territory. Between 1890 and 1900, the population doubled from around 30,000 to 63,000. Less than 1% of those who ventured to Alaska came away rich with gold.