If you ask people today who owned Alaska before the US, the majority say Canada and they would be very wrong.
In 1725, Peter the Great of Russia commissioned a Danish explorer and sea captain by the name of Vitus Bering to explore the coast of the land across the Okhotsk Sea. Bering’s exploration is considered by most sources of the ‘official’ discovery of Alaska by Russia, even though there is a great deal of evidence that suggested that people traveled across the once present land bridge from Asia to Alaska. That’s where many of the various Indian and other tribes of people originated from.
In 1728, Bering successfully sailed through a strait that was to be later named for him, the Bering Strait.
In 1733, Bering once again sailed and landed along the coast of Alaska. This time, he took a naturalist by the name of George Wilhelm Steller, with him.
In 1741, Steller described a species of sea lion found only in the northern Pacific. The sea lion species was then named the Steller sea lion after the naturalist. Today, the Steller sea lion is classified as a threatened species.
In 1741, Bering was accompanied by a Russian named Aleksei Chirikov, who was also a sea captain. Chirikov is credited with discovering some of the Aleutian Islands and also some credit him as being the first European to see Alaska.
In 1743, Russians began hunting sea otters and seals along the Alaska coast and Aleutian Islands.
In 1774, the first real European, Spaniard Juan Perez sails along the southern most coast of Alaska and discovered Prince of Wales Island and Dixon Sound
In 1778, famed British explorer and sea captain James Cook discovered Cook Inlet on which Anchorage was built, while searching for the Northwest Passage.
In 1784, Russian merchant Grigorii Shelikov is credited with the first non-native settlement in Alaska, establishing a settlement at Three Saints Bay, Kodiak.
In 1786, Gerassin Pribilof discovers a groups of islands north of the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea. The Pribilof Islands are known for the rookeries of marine birds and seals.
In 1792, Shelikov is granted a monopoly business on furs from Alaska. The monopoly grant is issued by Russia’s Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great.
In 1795, Members of the Russian Orthodox Church established their first church in Kodiak, Alaska.
In 1799, Old Sitka built by Alexander Baranov as a trading post.
In 1802, Tlingit natives attack and destroy Old Sitka.
In 1821, Russia bans all foreigners from sailing in Russia-America waters (between Russia and Alaska), except at specified ports of call.
In 1824, Russian explorers move further inland and discover the Koyokuk, Kuskokwim, Nushagak and Yukon Rivers.
In 1835, a Russian mission is built across the Cook Inlet from present day Anchorage.
In 1840, the newly established Russian Orthodox Diocese grant permission to use native languages in the liturgies to help reach the native people.
In 1841, Edward de Stoeckl, a Turkish born Russian named Secretariat of the Russian emissaries to the United States.
In 1853, Russian fur trappers discover oil seeps in Cook Inlet.
In 1857, Russia begins mining coal at Coal Harbor, Kenai Peninsula.
In 1859, Alexander II, Emperor of Russia, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Finland gives de Stoeckl permission to negotiate the sale of Alaska to the United States.
In 1861, Gold was discovered near Telegraph Creek on the Stikine River in southern Alaska.
In 1865 telegraph lines are planned to cross Alaska and Siberia by Western Union Telegraph Company.
In March 1867, de Stoeckl negotiates the sale of Alaska with US Secretary of State William Seward. At the time, Russia needed money and they realized that the Alaska-America, as they referred to it, would be very difficult to defend and they feared losing it to an enemy or rival such as Great Britain. There were few Russian settlements in Alaska, so de Stoeckl negotiated in earnest and reached a deal with Seward for a price of $2 per acre or total sale price of $7.2 million dollars. At the time, the US was also struggling financially as it was still trying to recover from the devastating effects of the Civil War. Many believed that Seward’s purchase of Alaska was a waste of money and referred to it as Seward’s Folly.
On this day, October 18, 1867, the US officially took possession of Alaska from Russia.
Alaska eventually became a state in 1958. It covers 663,267 square miles, about 17.5% of the entire land mass of the United States. In comparison Texas is only 268,580 square miles, California covers 163,695 square miles and Montana is next with 147,042 square miles. Combined, Texas, California and Montana cover a total of 579,317 square miles, falling short of the size of Alaska by 83,950 square miles, just over the size of Idaho (83,570 sq. mi.).
Sources for the above includes: Alaska History Timeline; Alaska History Timeline; Timeline of Alaska’s History; U.S. Takes Possession of Alaska; A Brief History of Alaska Statehood (1867-1959); Treaty with Russia for the Purchase of Alaska; Seward`s Folly, the Purchase of Alaska; Purchase of Alaska, 1867; William H. Seward