Coast mountains in Alaska’s panhandle. (Photo by Wikimedia Commons).

Although it looks like it should probably be part of Canada, the Alaskan Panhandle is Uncle Sam’s property. It has been a territorial asset of the United States after the Alaskan purchase of 1867. That didn’t come without some tension. Canada, British Columbia, and the United Kingdom’s governments have all claimed ownership of the panhandle at some point. 

The dispute over the ownership of the Alaskan Panhandle went on for centuries. Everyone wanted a slice of it’s frigid goodness. It once belonged to the Russian and British Empires, but the Americans obtained it after the acquisition of Alaska from the Russian Empire.  

Why the Russians sold the Alaskan territory to the United States

During the late 1700s, Russia, United Kingdom, and Spain were actively involved in the exploration of the Alaskan territory. The Russians were first to reach Alaska followed by the British sailor Captain Cook whose name was immortalized with the present-day Captain Cook Inlet.

These early explorers were seeking a steady supply of fur from the aboriginals. The Russians sold their territorial ownership because they believed the land was inhabitable and lacked the natural resources they need (compared to the abundance Siberia offered them). They also feared the land could be invaded if war broke out between the contending countries.

United States’s acquisition of Alaska

The Alaskan Purchase of 1867 added more than 500,000 sq. miles of land to the United States. A check of $7.2 million (around one-hundred million today), was signed by President Andrew Johnson and solidified the purchase.

It received mixed reactions from Americans. First of all, it was dubbed as “Seward’s Folly,” partly because the purchase weakened the expansion of the UK and Russia in the Pacific region. Many Americans, including Secretary of State William H. Seward, believed the Alaskan Territory would be the gateway to the Asian market and the land contained valuable natural resources, as was therefore worth the investment.