In January 1959, President Eisenhower signed a special proclamation admitting the territory of Alaska into the Union as the 49th and largest state.
Although indigenous peoples inhabited the region for centuries, Europeans first discovered Alaska in 1741. Russian hunters soon exposed the native Aleut population to devastating foreign diseases. The first permanent Russian colony in Alaska was established on Kodiak Island in 1784. By the early 19th century, Russian settlements spread down the west coast of North America as far as California.
With Russian activity in the New World declining in the 1820s, British and Americans obtained trading rights. In 1867 the United States purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. Although ridiculed in Congress as “Seward’s Folly,” the Senate ratified purchase.