In the winter of 1925, Balto, along with a number of other sled dogs and their drivers, became national heroes when they successfully delivered a much-needed diphtheria serum to the isolated residents of Nome, Alaska.
At the time of the 1925 diphtheria outbreak, doctors in Nome had run out of the serum used to treat the potentially deadly respiratory infection. The nearest supply was in Anchorage—posing a serious delivery dilemma. In 1925, the train line from Anchorage reached only as far as Nenana, about 675 miles from Nome . Airplane delivery was also not an option, as the only two airplanes in Alaska were open cockpit planes, and therefore in storage for the winter . Without the proper medication, however, the disease posed a serious threat to the entire population of the city .
Officials turned, therefore, to local dogsled teams. They arranged for a relay of teams to travel along the Iditarod Trail, from Nenana to Nome. Despite dangerous conditions, the drivers delivered the serum in 5 days and 7 hours. Under normal circumstances, the trip would have taken a single driver and dog team 15 to 20 days .
As the lead dog of the final leg of the journey, Balto received much attention. In addition to the sculpture of Balto in Central Park, he has been the subject of a children’s book and an animated movie.
The events of January, 1925 are still commemorated today in the annual Iditarod race, in which dogsled teams retrace the entire path of the diphtheria serum from Anchorage to Nome.
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