Adam Weymouth:

America bought Alaska from Russia in 1867, a deal negotiated by William Seward, then US Secretary of State. That Russian heritage is still preserved in Alaska, in the surnames of those that live along the Yukon, names like Demoski and Kozevniko and Shaishniko, and in the onion domes of the Orthodox churches in the villages downriver. The U.S. purchase much derided at the time: the press dubbed it 'Seward’s folly," and the new acquisition as Walrussia.

The Russians had exhausted the fur trade after wiping out most of the sea otters, and they had then lost interest in Alaska, believing it had to have few other natural resources. Not sure what to do with their new half-billion acres, the U.S. governed [it] as a far-flung territory, with all the lawlessness that entailed. Statehood would not come until 1959, with the United States capitalizing on Alaska’s strategic military importance vis-à-vis Japan and Russia. But it was in 1967 that Seward’s folly hit pay dirt: The oilfield discovered on the North Slope would prove to be the largest in the United States.

Who can say what the situation would be if the Russians owned Alaska today? Russia would share a land border with Canada. The Russians would have benefited hugely from the 16 billion barrels of oil that have so far been extracted from Prudhoe Bay. The U.S. would have no claim on the Arctic, a place that will have huge political and economic importance as the icecap thaws during this century. It is quite possible that the world would look very different.

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