1976 13¢ Alaska
State Flags Issue
Issue Date: February 23, 1976
City: Washington, DC
Quantity: 8,720,100 panes of 50
Printed By: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Photogravure
Issued as part of the ongoing Bicentennial celebration, the 13¢ State Flags pane was a first in U.S. history. This was the first time a pane with 50 face-different stamps was issued. Each state is represented by its official flag, with the stamps arranged on the sheet in the same order each state was admitted into the Union.
U.S. Purchases Alaska
On March 30, 1867, US Secretary of State William Seward purchased Alaska from Russia in what many at the time called “Seward’s Folly.”
The Russians first explored Alaska in the 1600s and first settled there in 1784. In 1824 and 1825, Russia signed treaties with the United States and Great Britain recognizing proper boundaries in America. The treaties gave these nations trading rights along Alaska’s extensive coastline.
Russia attempted to build several industries in Alaska, including coal mining, shipbuilding, and whaling. However, once the fur trade became less profitable, interest in the area declined. Russia’s economy was then damaged by the costly Crimean War (1853-56).
After that war ended, Russia’s emperor Alexander II grew concerned that if war broke out with England, Alaska might be a major target that could be easily taken. He then decided it best to sell the land. As early as 1857, the Russians attempted to sell Alaska to America. They also approached England with offers, possibly hoping to start a bidding war between the two nations, but the British weren’t interested in Alaska.
In 1859 and 1860, Russian and American officials met informally to discuss a possible sale. President James Buchanan was interested and his men offered $5 million. But the Russians didn’t think that was enough, so talks continued. However, as America steamed toward the Civil War, the talks were stalled for several years.
After the war ended in 1865, US Secretary of State William Seward strongly supported expanding America’s territorial holdings and focused on Alaska. In March 1867, the Russian minister began negotiations with Seward. At the time, the American government was busy with Reconstruction and believed that such a purchase could draw public attention away from the domestic issues of the day. On the evening of March 29, Seward began an all-night negotiation session that concluded at 4:00 the next morning with the signing of the treaty.
Seward agreed to buy Alaska for $7,200,000 – a cost of about 2¢ per acre. While the terms “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s Icebox” were used to describe the deal, not all public opinion was against the purchase. Many believed that Alaska would ultimately prove economically beneficial. Additionally, the deal would improve relations with Russia and possibly lead to the acquisition of British Columbia.
The Senate approved the purchase days later, on April 9. However, the House of Representatives opposed the deal and didn’t approve the funds for the purchase for over a year. In the meantime, on October 18, 1867, US troops raised the American flag at Sitka, formally taking possession of the new territory. It would be over 90 years before Alaska was admitted as America’s 49th state.
Click here to view the check used to purchase Alaska.
Alaska State Flag
Alaska’s current state flag was the winning entry in a contest sponsored by the American Legion in 1927, more than 30 years before the territory became a U.S. state. Designed by John Bell (Benny) Benson, a 13-year-old orphaned Aleut Indian, this flag was formally adopted in May 1927. The flag’s blue background represented the sky and the Forget-me-not, Alaska’s state flower. Against this background are eight gold stars to represent the Big Dipper, a symbol of strength, and the North Star, to represent Alaska’s future as the northernmost U.S. state.
The Bicentennial Series
The U.S. Bicentennial was a series of celebrations during the mid-1970s that commemorated the historic events leading to America’s independence from Great Britain. The official events began on April 1, 1975, when the American Freedom Train departed Delaware to begin a 21-month, 25,338-mile tour of the 48 contiguous states. For more than a year, a wave of patriotism swept the nation as elaborate firework displays lit up skies across the U.S., an international fleet of tall-mast sailing ships gathered in New York City and Boston, and Queen Elizabeth made a state visit. The celebration culminated on July 4, 1976, with the 200th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
The U.S.P.S. issued 113 commemorative stamps over a six-year period in honor of the U.S. bicentennial, beginning with the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission Emblem stamp (U.S. #1432). As a group, the Bicentennial Series chronicles one of our nation’s most important chapters, and remembers the events and patriots who made the U.S. a world model for liberty.