National Archives Celebrates 150th Anniversary of Alaska Purchase
Press Release · Thursday, March 2, 2017

Washington, DC

Commemoration includes special photography exhibit, musical program, and loan to Alaska

Washington, DC – The National Archives celebrates the sesquicentennial of the Alaska Purchase with a special “Hidden Treasure” Alaska panoramic photography exhibit at the National Archives at College Park; a presentation by the exhibit curator, a musical program at the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC; and a loan to “Polar Bear Garden” exhibit at the Anchorage Museum. The National Archives programs and exhibit are free and open to the public.

Musical Program: Alaska Sesquicentennial: Seward’s Day
Thursday, March 30, at 7:30 p.m., William G. McGowan Theater & YouTube
On March 30, 1867, U.S. Secretary of State William Henry Seward signed the Alaska Treaty of Cession that purchased Russian America. To commemorate the life and contributions of Seward, the State of Alaska is sponsoring a performance of the Alaska chamber group, Wild Shore New Music. Join us as Wild Shore performs the work of living composers who have found inspiration through their experiences with the natural beauty and indigenous cultures of Alaska. Reservations are recommended and can be made online. Presented in partnership with the Alaska Historical Society.

Exhibit: HIDDEN TREASURE:  Panoramas of the Alaskan Frontier
National Archives at College Park, MD, lower level, on indefinite display
Hidden Treasure dramatically captures the beauty of Alaska, as captured on film by U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) topographers from 1910-1932.  These extraordinary images -- a sampling of more than 6,000 panoramic photographs from the collection -- were used, but then stored and remained unseen for decades.  Thanks to the intrepid research, work, and photographic skill of National Archives expert Richard Schneider, these images can now be seen by the public in their original panoramic format for the first time.  These aesthetic gems capture worklife in the Alaskan wilderness, show photography and surveying techniques, and document noteworthy towns, such as Ketchikan and Seward, and geological formations, such as the Columbia Glacier. Schneider also shares related National Archives records that provide context to enhance the experience of seeing these panoramas.  

These panoramic images, in addition to hand drawings made with the alidade and plane table, recorded peaks, valleys, traverses, and other geologic features that were then depicted on topographic maps highly sought after by businesses and the general public in the 20th Century.  All the photographs in Hidden Treasure were scanned from the original negatives and many were digitally combined into long panoramas that encompassed up to a 360-degree view.  See Richard Schneider’s related Prologue Magazine story:  “The Alaskan Frontier in Panorama - How the National Archives Preserved Early 20th-Century Photographs.”

For more information about “Hidden Treasure” or to obtain images of items included in the exhibition, please contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at or 202-357-5300. Hidden Treasure is presented by the National Archives’ Preservation Programs and Business Support Services.

Presentation: "Hidden Treasure" Panoramic Photographs

Wednesday, April 12 at 2 p.m., William G. McGowan Theater &  YouTube  

“Hidden Treasure” exhibit curator Richard Schneider will discuss historic panoramic photographs of the Alaska Territory between 1910 and 1932, from the National Archives’ extensive Still Pictures holdings.  The panoramas are on display at the National Archives at College Park. Presentation materials available online.  

Related Loan to “Polar Bear Garden” exhibit at the Anchorage Museum

March 3 - September 17, 2017, Anchorage, Alaska

Archival and contemporary photographs combine with nesting dolls, cartoons, feature-length films, and Cold War propaganda to take viewers on a journey between Alaska and Russia since the purchase — exploring stereotypes, language, storytelling, boundaries and crossings. Exhibit highlights on rare loan from the National Archives include the original cancelled check and President Andrew Johnson's Ratification of the Treaty.  More information online.  


In 1866 the Russian government offered to sell the territory of Alaska to the United States. Secretary of State William H. Seward, enthusiastic about the prospects of American Expansion, negotiated the deal for the Americans. Edouard de Stoeckl, Russian minister to the United States, negotiated for the Russians. On March 30, 1867, the two parties agreed that the United States would pay Russia $7.2 million for the territory of Alaska.

For less that 2 cents an acre, the United States acquired nearly 600,000 square miles. Opponents of the Alaska Purchase persisted in calling it “Seward’s Folly,” “Seward’s Icebox,” and “Polar Bear Garden” until 1896, when the great Klondike Gold Strike convinced even the harshest critics that Alaska was a valuable addition to American territory.

The check for $7.2 million was made payable to Russian Minister to the United States, Edouard de Stoeckl, who negotiated the deal for the Russians. Tzar Alexander II, signed the Treaty of Cession,which formally concluded the agreement for the purchase of Alaska from Russia.

Related online resources

Cancelled check for $7.2 million for the United States purchase of Alaska from Russia

Alaska Purchase Receipt

Teaching with Documents Lesson Plan about Alaska:  Migration North to Alaska

Education Blog:  The Purchase of Alaska

Prologue Magazine article:  Seward's Bargain: The Alaska Purchase from Russia

School Desegregation and Civil Rights Stories: Ketchikan, Alaska

Eisenhower Library records relating to Alaskan Statehood

White House blog:  President Eisenhower and the Alaska Purchase

National Archives Pieces of History blog:  “Seward’s time-traveling folly”

Document of the Day:  Presentation of salmon to President and Mrs. Harding, 7/8/1923

National Archives Text Message blog:  “Fur Warden Sketches Map of Fortymile River Basin in Alaska”

Alaska Records Digitization Project

Sir Henry S. Wellcome Collection at the National Archives

This page was last reviewed on May 2, 2017.
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