At the turn of the 19th century, France's vast province of Louisiana was equal in size to the United States. It encompassed the lands between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains. First Consul Napoleon intended that this would be his foothold to secure eventual dominion over North America.
By 1803 Napoleon's dream for North America was fading. He was at war with Great Britain and badly needed money for his campaigns in Europe and the Mediterranean. In a swift month-long negotiation, the United States made the Louisiana Purchase for about $12 million. With a stroke of the pen, the size of the nation doubled.
President Thomas Jefferson then ordered that an expedition be organized to explore not only the Louisiana Purchase but also the lands beyond the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. There was hope there might be a waterway from the Mississippi west to the ocean.
The three-year expedition, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, helped describe and define the wealth of the Louisiana Purchase and produced similar information on the lands west to the Pacific. It truly opened the West.