Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Adeline. Adeline Wonders, “Why did the USA buy Alaska instead of Canada?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Adeline!

Today’s Wonder of the Day is all about the U.S.A.’s largest state. It has over 100 volcanoes, 3,000 rivers, and 3,000,000 lakes. Sometimes, its days and nights last months. And it’s one of the best places to see the Northern Lights. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, we’re talking about Alaska!

If you look at a map of the United States, you might not see Alaska right away. Why? Because Alaska doesn’t touch any other state. In fact, the nation of Canada sits between this northernmost state and the rest of the U.S.

This might lead you to WONDER—how did Alaska become part of the United States? Many Wonder Friends know that the U.S. bought Alaska from Russia in 1867. Many called that deal Seward’s Folly. But why did Russia sell Alaska to the U.S., anyway? Why didn’t Canada buy it?

To answer this question, we need to go back to 1741. That’s the year Russia claimed Alaska as its territory. In the following years, it established Russian colonies throughout Alaska. It also took advantage of Alaska’s natural resources. Namely, fur trading became a booming business. Over time, these operations would nearly deplete Alaska’s otter population.

At the same time, another power was growing on the other side of North America. You may already know about the British colonies that would become the United States. But Britain also built settlements in modern-day Canada. These were in the areas of Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and the Hudson Bay.

In the 19th Century, Russia and Great Britain found themselves at odds on many fronts. Most notably, the two nations both sought to increase their power in the Pacific Ocean. They were also on opposite sides of a bloody conflict called the Crimean War.

Russia felt pressure as both Great Britain and the young United States expanded their power across North America. As the fur trade dwindled, Russia began re-considering the value of its Alaskan territory.

That’s when Russia thought about selling Alaska. But who would it sell the territory to? Canada was still a colony of Great Britain. Though the two territories shared a border, Russia and Great Britain were still rivals. That made Russia hesitant to sell Alaska to Great Britain. Of course, we know how the story ends: Russia sold Alaska to the United States in 1867 instead. That same year, Great Britain established the Dominion of Canada. This moved the territory closer to becoming its own nation. 

So why didn’t Canada buy Alaska? There are two main reasons. First, Canada wasn’t its own country in 1867. Second, Great Britain controlled the Canadian colonies. Russia did not want to sell Alaska to its rival.

After the Alaskan purchase, the United States and Canada had a long and bitter dispute. They couldn’t agree on where exactly the Alaskan border was. Eventually, the dispute was settled and Alaska’s 1,538-mile border with Canada was established. Alaska went on to become the U.S.A.’s 49th state in 1959.

Do you live in Alaska? Have you ever visited? In addition to being the U.S.A.’s largest state, many also call it the most beautiful. From glaciers to mountains to wooded areas, Alaska certainly has many sights to see. If you love exploring the great outdoors, it may be the state for you!

Standards: C3.D2.His.14,, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.8, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, C2.D2.Geo.2, C3.D2.Geo.3, C3.D2.Geo.6

Wonder What's Next?

CELLebrate learning with tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day!