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The Biggest Historical Real Estate Deals 

The Biggest Historical Real Estate Deals

Although there are some significantly big real estate deals nowadays, they don’t have nearly as great an impact on our history as some of the deals we’ll be talking about today. Some of these deals are major simply because of the size of the land, while others carry importance due to the way they have shaped political history.

  1. Treaty of Tordesillas

The Treaty of Tordesillas deserves to be on top of our list simply due to the scope it covers.

We can call the treaty of Tordesillas the treaty that split the world in half, because it did. The treaty’s objective was to settle the issues that emerged upon Christopher Columbus’ return from his mission of discovery. This is how the series of events unfolded.

In 1481, Pope Sixtus IV was elected, after which he awarded all of the territories south of the Canary Islands to the Portuguese in his papal bull “Aeterni Regis”.

A few years later, in 1493 to be exact, Pope VI of Spain, Alexander Rodrigo Borgia, declared in his papal bull “Inter Caetera” that all territories more than 100 leagues west of the Cabo Verde Islands belonged to the Spanish. 

This, of course, was a problem, and the bad news did not sit well with the Portuguese King. A big war was on the verge of breaking out, but luckily, the two sides came to an agreement and the Treaty of Tordesillas was signed on June 7th, 1494, between the two naval powers of the time, Portugal and Spain. 

Taking the Cabo Verde Islands as the starting point, the North-South meridian was drawn 370 sea leagues (1550 km) west of this point. The line was adopted as the boundary dividing the world outside Europe into two halves belonging to Portugal and Spain. All the discovered and to be discovered territories west of the border belonged to Spain. All the discovered and to be discovered territories east of the border belonged to Portugal. 

  1. The Louisiana Purchase

The Louisiana Purchase may be one of the most popular real estate deals in history. In 1803, the United States acquired the 828,000 square miles (2,144,520 km²) of land from France for $15 million, land that now covers around 13 U.S. states. The deal was made thanks to Napoleon Bonaparte’s plan to conquer all of Europe. 

Bonaparte was in need of money to continue his endeavors, so he decided to liquefy the huge land located in North America. In the meantime, the U.S. government was worried that their access to the commercially important Gulf of Mexico might be restricted, so, President Thomas Jefferson dispatched government delegates to France to broker a deal for the purchase of New Orleans and, if feasible, the Mississippi River.

Thanks to the perfect timing, The U.S. government was able to acquire much more than they could dream of, for much less than anyone could guess.

The Louisiana Purchase remains one of the biggest historical real estate deals mainly because it was a huge bargain, costing the U.S.A. only 4 cents per acre. Without the Louisiana Territory, the United States of America as we know it now would not exist. Had the territory not been purchased, we would be looking at a map of the United States today, split down the middle with a huge chunk of it missing. Thanks to this acquisition, these lands allowed America to rapidly expand westward at the time.

  1. The Alaska Purchase

Another famous purchase from the United States is the Alaska Purchase, a famous real estate deal in history that’s still being talked about today.

The Russians, who fought the Ottomans in 1853 in the Crimean War with the British’s help, lacked resources as a consequence of the war. They were also worried that in the event of a future war, Alaska would be easily taken. Moreover, due to a lack of resources and terrible living circumstances in Alaska, they decided to sell this piece of land. 

Emperor Alexander II first reached out to Britain for the purchase, but they respectfully declined. The offer then went to the U.S.A. and in 1867, Russia made a deal with the United States to sell Alaska for $7.2 million.

The parties were uninformed of the existence of gold and oil in the area prior to the transaction. On March 30th, 1867, the transaction was completed with the signature of President Johnson, and the 586,412 square miles (1,518,800 km²) of land was purchased. The United States bought the colony for $7.2 million, or 2 cents per acre to be exact. 

Without a doubt, the United States clearly got the better end of this deal, due to the unknown resources of Alaska. The dollar rate in 1867 was 1 ruble 60 kopecks, and Alaska was sold for 11 million 520 thousand rubles by Russia. In 1867, the government budget of Russia was 10 million 933 thousand 500 rubles, and the selling of Alaska only resulted in a 2.5 percent increase in the budget.

  1. Hong Kong

Instead of a purchasing deal, this time we’re looking at one of the biggest and most significant lease agreements in history – the lease of Hong Kong.

After China lost the “opium war” against England in 1842, they wanted to make peace with them. At the time, Hong Kong was a quiet island with lots of fishing villages that were insignificant to China. With the treaty of Nanking, Hong Kong was handed over to Britain.

Following Hong Kong, Britain also took some of the other islands in the region in the following years. 

On July 1st, 1898, China chartered 235 islands in the region, including Hong Kong, to Britain. With a “lease agreement” for 99 years signed in 1898, Hong Kong remained under British authority for many years, except for a few years during WWII, until it was returned to China on July 1st, 1997.

Although Hong Kong was a very undeveloped island during the years it was originally handed over, the island thrived and developed, and the surrounding islands became an important resource to the Hong Kong island that Britain handed over Hong Kong along with the leased island to China on July 1st, 1997. 

  1. The Manhattan Island Purchase

Following the deals we have shared so far, this next one doesn’t involve large sums of money but it’s an important deal because of this very reason.

What if we told you that Manhattan Island was purchased for only 24 dollars? You must think that surely, there must be a few zeros missing from this amount, but that’s not the case. Some sources even state that the 24 dollars weren’t even in cash, they were the equivalent of 24 dollars in beads.

Yes, the Dutch West India Company purchased the island of Manhattan and sent out a letter stating that they have managed to acquire the island for 60 guilders from the Native Americans, who the Dutch called “savages” at the time.  

While the details of this transaction are a bit blurry, and there are many different versions of this story, it’s speculated that both sides didn’t understand each other properly, and some sources even claim that the Native Americans at the time didn’t understand the concept of selling land at all. 

Whatever the truth may be, it still doesn’t change the fact that the island of Manhattan was worth significantly more back in the day, and the Native Americans certainly got the short end of the deal.

  1. The Oregon Treaty

Oregon at the time didn’t cover the same area that it does today. The old Oregon was actually the area that covers present day’s Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and other surrounding states, and the British called this territory “Columbia”.

Later occupied by Britain, the United States, and Russia after 1824, everyone had a claim on the Oregon territory and the tensions were getting high. Britain’s claim of the area was strongest and they were claiming the region from the 49th parallel to the Columbia river, because they wanted in on the fur trade trend that was happening in that region at the time.

The United States, on the other hand, originally wanted a border that ends at the 51st parallel, but the two sides were unable to negotiate due to the large differences in their claims and a deal was never reached.

Later in 1844, the dispute still unresolved, the United States had an election that eventually resulted in James Polk becoming the president. Polk’s administration wanted to expand the borders of the United States so much that, their claim over the Oregon territory was even larger than the U.S.’s original claim. 

During the campaign for Polk’s presidency, the famous slogan “54-40 or Fight!” was used, which meant that the administration wanted the border to be extended to the 54th parallel. They were willing to go to war with Britain over this territory, too.

However, the U.S. soon got into a conflict with Mexico. Going to war with two countries at the same time was not the best idea, so the U.S. had to compromise. In 1846, the Oregon Treaty was finally signed and two nations finally came to an agreement, which divided the huge land by the 49th parallel.

  1. The Treaty of Paris

Although this treaty was made in Paris, the land in question actually has nothing to do with the city of Paris itself. This deal actually refers to how the United States gained their independence, and it also includes the land the United States started with, the area that covered the original thirteen states.

Benjamin Franklin and two other peace commissioners, John Adams and John Jay, were delegated by the U.S. to go to Great Britain and make a deal for the country’s independence, which included a huge land deal as well.

The negotiations weren’t easy, and after a lot of thinking, arguing, and bargaining from all sides that fought in the war, Great Britain decided to come to an agreement with the United States and the U.S. ended up with even more than they negotiated for. 

The British returned a huge part of the territory they occupied, which is all the land in North America that’s to the east of the Mississippi River except for New Orleans, and the treaty also meant that they now officially recognized the United States as a sovereign nation.

  1. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

Signed in 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American war. The treaty designated The Rio Grande and Gila rivers as the border between the United States and Mexico. 

So, how did this treaty come to be? With a dispute that came beforehand, of course. The separation of Texas from Mexico was causing tension between the United States and Mexico. Soon after, Texas wanted to become a separate state as a part of the United States, which did not help the prior dispute that was slowly brewing. 

This tension caused the two countries to go to war, which lasted a few years. At the end of the war in 1846, the United States was able to obtain 525,000 square miles (1,360,000 square kilometers) from Mexico, spanning today’s California, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, New Mexico, and Utah for $15 million. 

The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo also opened the way to another considerably large historical real estate deal, namely the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, which was a land deal between the United States and Mexico that included 29,670 square miles of land.

  1. Treaty of Ghent

The treaty of Ghent is known for ending the war of 1812, fought between Great Britain and the United States, but it also carries importance as a real estate deal due to the occupation of the Northwestern territory of the United States. 

At the time, Great Britain was trying to prevent the U.S. from doing trade with other countries, and the United States were looking to expand their borders, which was causing tension and a conflict of interest between the two countries.

At the end of a war that forced the United States to bear considerable losses, the two countries came to an agreement in 1814, and the treaty of Ghent was signed. This ended the war, and the Northwest territory which was occupied during the war was returned to the United States.

Honorable Mention – Kidman Ranches

Sidney Kidman was an Australian man from Adelaide, known in Australia as the “cattle king” due to owning the largest cattle farm in the world, but more importantly, he is also the owner of the biggest private land in Australia, the Kidman Ranches, which is around 124,000 km².

Kidman left home as a little boy and began working for a cattleman, who thought him the job. Soon after, he learned the secrets of the business and made attempts to become a business owner himself. He started trading and doing businesses, providing services where new towns were being built. 

Kidman quickly became a rich man and started buying land, the first piece of land being the Owen Springs. He had the advantage of working with towns that were new, as the land around those areas was empty and affordable. While doing business and trading, Kidman bought more and more land, and in as short as 12 years, he acquired 3% of Australia. 

His company Kidman and Co. was sold to the American-Chinese company Outback Beef, which is mostly owned by the mining magnate Gina Rinehart, and the land itself is currently smaller. Still, the size of Kidman Ranches today is about the size of Switzerland and Austria together!

Final Words

Although the deals we have mentioned in our list today are some of the biggest real estate deals in history, there are so many other strong contenders for this list, and there may even be some deals that got lost in history that were never recorded. However, one thing’s certain: next time you hear about a crazy land deal, you won’t be as easily impressed!


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