This week in history, we’ll look at major moments in American history that have undeniably played a role in the development of our nation.
On April 30, 1803, 217 years ago, the United States bought 530,000,000 acres of North American territory from France in the famous Louisiana Purchase.
While it’s hard to imagine the United States not spanning from sea to shining sea, the reality was that before 1803, American soil ended at the banks of the Mississippi River. The Louisiana Territory, the United States’ next-door neighbor, began at the mouth of the Mississippi at the port of New Orleans, and spread as far north as the Great Lakes and as far west as Montana.
Ownership of this vast landmass had changed hands on numerous occasions during the 18th century. Originally part of the French fur trading network, France was largely driven out of North America by the British in the French and Indian War, giving Louisiana to the Spanish. Years later, Spain was nearly bankrupt, and Louisiana was given back to the French, now ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte. Long story short, European rulers were constantly fighting and trading land, so Louisiana had many different owners.
By 1803, the U.S. was still a fledgling nation, not even 30 years old. In order to transport crops grown in the fertile Midwest, Americans needed the mighty Mississippi to get their goods back to the cities of the East Coast. Foreign governments, however, created issues for farmers and merchants trying to pass through. To solve this, President Thomas Jefferson sent advisors to Paris to strike a deal with the French to purchase New Orleans. The American envoys were shocked when the French countered their offer, willing to sell the entire Louisiana Territory. For $15 million, Napoleon gave the United States all French lands in North America. This price was a steal, costing the government less than three cents per acre.
The Louisiana Purchase is considered one of the crowning achievements of the Jefferson administration, nearly doubling the size of the United States. Exactly nine years later, Louisiana would be the first of 13 states to enter the Union out of the land of the largest real estate transaction in human history.
On May 1, 1931, 89 years ago, the Empire State Building was dedicated.
Even though the Empire State Building is a staple of the Manhattan skyline, the dedication ceremony took place at the White House in Washington, D.C., 250 miles away. President Herbert Hoover pressed the button, lighting all 102 stories of the structure (symbolically of course, as this technology was a far cry from 1930s America).
The idea for the Empire State Building began when the Chrysler Corporation and General Motors, the two leading American car manufacturers, competed to construct the tallest building in the world. The Chrysler Building was already under way, and John Jakob Raskob of General Motors did not want to be outdone. I guess size matters no matter what era you live in.
Raskob’s team designed a building fitting of the 1920s, with the extravagant art-deco style prevalent throughout the structure (just picture a skyscraper out of “The Great Gatsby”). Upon its completion in 1931, the building stood at 1,250 feet high and held the title of world’s tallest building until the completion of the World Trade Center in 1972.
The Empire State Building was a momentous event for the people of New York who had felt the pressures of the Great Depression for some time. Though it’s completion was greeted with great joy, only 25% of the building’s offices had been filled a year later.
Gino Giansanti is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.