Who sold Alaska to the US

March 30, 1867 - Russia sells Alaska to the United States

Aborigines as slave labor

At the end of the 18th century, competition grew on the west coast of America. British and Spanish claim land. Tsar Paul I reacted in 1799 by founding the Russian-American Company, a semi-state monopoly company for the trade in fur. A systematic colonization of Russian America begins.

This has drastic consequences for the natives: The Tlingit and the Alutiiq are forced to hunt. They have to deliver their prey for a predetermined price. Most of the time, however, they do not receive any money, but rather tea, tobacco and goods that they have made themselves. "So a completely absurd system", says Professor Martina Winkler, Eastern Europe historian from Bremen. The alleged trade was disguised forced labor.

Falling profits, military weakness

After a few decades, the sea otter in Russian Alaska is almost completely exterminated. From the Russian point of view, the problems are growing: it is becoming more difficult to supply the distant colony, competition is greater, and profits are decreasing. At the end of the 1850s, the Tsar's court in Saint Petersburg was considering selling off the distant possessions. The Crimean War had been lost and stopped Russian expansion in south-eastern Europe.

The military weakness affects Russian deliberations: "If the British try to take Russian America, we have no chance"is how historian Winkler sums up the argument. "Then we can also sell it, then at least we'll still have some of it." Tsar Alexander II therefore offers Alaska for sale to the United States: On March 30, 1867, the area changes hands for $ 7.2 million.

In retrospect, a bargain

From the perspective of the time, the deal is a win-win situation. The Americans can use the slogan "America for the Americans" - according to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. The Russians can turn to Central Asia, where there are still huge areas to be developed for the Tsarist Empire.

It wasn't until decades later that it became known how rich Alaska is in natural resources.

Program tips:

On WDR 2 you can always hear the due date around 9:40 a.m. Repetition: from Monday to Saturday at 6.40 p.m. The deadline is available as a podcast after it has been broadcast.

"ZeitZeichen" on WDR 5 (9.45 a.m.) and WDR 3 (5.45 p.m.) also commemorates the sale of Alaska from Russia to the USA on March 30, 2017. The "ZeitZeichen" is also available as a podcast.

Deadline on March 31, 2017: 65 years ago: British Motor Holding was founded