What was Alaska’s nickname when it was first purchased?

Travel Destinations

By Sarah Anderson

Alaska is known as the "Last Frontier" today, but this wasn’t always the case. When the United States first purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, it was given a different nickname. This article will explore what that nickname was, the historical context surrounding its creation, and the significance it had at the time.

The Purchase of Alaska

In 1867, the United States agreed to purchase Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. This land acquisition was met with ridicule and skepticism by many Americans, who saw it as a waste of money. The deal was brokered by Secretary of State William Seward, who saw the potential for economic and strategic benefits in the vast territory.

Alaska’s Nickname

After the purchase, Alaska was given the nickname "Seward’s Folly" by the American press. This name was a play on words, as it referenced both the man responsible for the purchase and the perceived foolishness of the deal. The nickname quickly caught on and was used by newspapers across the country.

Historical Context

The purchase of Alaska took place during a time of great expansion for the United States. The country was rapidly expanding westward, and many saw Alaska as a natural extension of this movement. Additionally, tensions between the United States and Russia were rising, and the purchase of Alaska was seen as a way to prevent the Russians from gaining a foothold in North America.

The Seward’s Folly Debate

The nickname "Seward’s Folly" reflected the widespread belief that the purchase of Alaska was a mistake. Critics of the deal argued that the land was too cold and barren to be of any use to the United States. Some even went so far as to call it "Seward’s Icebox" or "Polar Bear Garden."

The Naming Controversy

Despite the negative connotations of "Seward’s Folly," some supporters of the purchase tried to come up with alternative nicknames for the territory. Suggestions included "New Columbia," "Jacksonia," and "Alaska," but none of these names gained widespread acceptance.

The Final Decision

In the end, "Alaska" became the official name of the territory. The name was suggested by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, who believed it was a variation of an Aleutian word meaning "great land." While not as catchy as "Seward’s Folly," the name has proven to be more enduring.

The Significance of the Nickname

The nickname "Seward’s Folly" reflects the initial skepticism and derision that greeted the purchase of Alaska. However, it also highlights the boldness and vision of those who saw the potential of the territory. The fact that Alaska is now a state with a rich history and culture is a testament to the perseverance and dedication of those who believed in its potential.

Modern Perception

Today, "Seward’s Folly" is seen as an outdated and inaccurate nickname for Alaska. Instead, the state is known as the "Last Frontier," a nod to its rugged and untamed wilderness. The name reflects the continued fascination and respect that people have for this unique and beautiful part of the world.


The nickname "Seward’s Folly" may have been born out of skepticism and ridicule, but it ultimately served as a reminder of the boldness and vision that made the purchase of Alaska possible. While the name has since been replaced by the more fitting moniker of the "Last Frontier," it remains an important part of Alaska’s history.


  • "The Alaska Purchase." History.com Editors. History.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. 15 June 2010. https://www.history.com/topics/us-states/alaska-purchase
  • "Why Was Alaska Called ‘Seward’s Folly’?" History.com Editors. History.com. A&E Television Networks, LLC. 9 Oct. 2020. https://www.history.com/news/why-was-alaska-called-sewards-folly
  • "Seward’s Folly." Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/collections/cartoon-america-400-years-of-american-cartoon-history/articles-and-essays/sewards-folly/

Further Reading

  • Naske, Claus-M. and Herman E. Slotnick. Alaska: A History of the 49th State. University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.
  • Haycox, Stephen W. Alaska: An American Colony. University of Washington Press, 2002.
  • Naske, Claus-M. and Lorraine B. Massey. Alaska: A History of the State. University of Oklahoma Press, 2015.
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Sarah Anderson

Sarah Anderson, an Anchorage-based travel writer contributing her expertise to TravelAsker. Her in-depth knowledge of Alaska, both in her hometown and throughout the state, makes her the go-to local expert. From top-notch accommodations to delectable dining spots and thrilling activities, Sarah’s insightful recommendations ensure you’ll have a fantastic family trip in Alaska.

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