Unlike the lower 48 states, there weren’t too many border decisions when the United States bought Alaska in the 1867 transaction that came to be known as Seward’s Folly. The space was essentially already defined because Russia and Canada had already created a straight line boundary at the 141st Meridian, but why does Alaska continue to snake several thousand more miles south along the coast of Canada?
This region, called the Alaska Panhandle and circled below, was already a stretch of land that Russia laid claim to when they owned the territory. When William Seward negotiated the purchase from Russia, he also accepted Russia’s map as evidence of just what he was buying. But Canada had a different perspective based on extremely vague wording of the original treaty with Russia – so they set about to dispute American ownership of the panhandle.
Unfortunately for Canada, they trusted a British judge who was appointed to the Alaskan Boundary Tribunal, formed to settle the dispute. The tribunal consisted of three Americans, two Canadians, and one British judge. Rumor has it that the Brit sided with the American position because President Teddy Roosevelt had hinted that if America did not prevail in the tribunal he may choose to just take it by force. Another rumor was that Britain was looking for American help in an arms dispute with Germany at the time.
In the end a treaty was signed and the United States retained ownership of the panhandle which had long been a popular route for ships and traders. It later became one of the routes to the Yukon when gold was discovered. Imagine living in the northwestern part of British Columbia and having to pass through the United States to get to the coast?