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Facial Hair Friday: From Russia With Love

Czar Alexander II of Russia, ca. 1860-1865 (ARC 526175)

When Russia sold the Alaska territory to the United States in 1867, Czar Alexander II did not take part in the negotiations. Could it be that he did not want to take time away from meticulously manicuring his royal mustache?

Czar Alexander II was a true man of the era, sporting mutton chops along with a full mustache. He would have had no problem fitting in with the negotiators of the Alaska purchase.

Americans Robert S. Chew, William Hunter, and Frederick W. Seward all brought a unique style of beard to the bargaining table. Secretary of State William H. Seward was one of the few renegades of the American contingent, preferring to remain clean shaven.

Although even Moscow’s top diplomats could not fill the mutton chops of a monarch, the Russian delegation made a manful attempt, with envoy Eduard de Stoeckl emulating the Czar’s handlebar mustache and plush sideburns.

When the war of the whiskers finally concluded, the two sides reached an agreement. On August 1, 1868, the United States wrote de Stoeckl a check for more than 586,000 square miles in the Alaska territory for $7.2 million.

At the time, the deal was with disapproval from some, who called the enormous piece of land “Seward’s Folly.” But in 1896, the discovery of gold made the recently acquired district far more valuable.

In 1959, Alaska became the 49th state to enter the union. By then, the muttonchop was long out of fashion, but its legacy lives on through this historic land purchase.

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