February 2 – Serum Run, AKA the Great Race of Mercy

Posted on February 2, 2018

"The last great race!"

This popular yearly race from to Settler's Bay to Nome, Alaska, honors the history of dog "mushing."

You probably know that "dog mushing" is a sport or a means of transportation that is powered by dogs. In this case, sleds pulled by dogs.

But did you know that this popular sport actually began with a serious event?

The year was 1924, and the small town of Nome, Alaska, was pretty far from Alaska's major cities and ports. 

Nome had a doctor, someone who was smart and careful enough to notice in the fall of that year that the entire batch of diphtheria antitoxin in the town's small hospital had expired. He placed an order for more.

But back then things took longer to move, and the shipment did not arrive before Nome's port closed for the winter.

And that winter (now the year 1925), diphtheria struck the town. Several people died, and the doctor was sure that an epidemic was likely. He telegrammed for help.

Blizzard conditions meant that an airplane from Anchorage couldn't deliver the life-saving serum. No ship could reach them. What was left?

A relay of dog sled teams was organized to deliver the serum. Twenty mushers and about 150 sled dogs crossed Alaska from Nenana to Nome - 674 miles (1,085 km) - in five and a half days.

The antitoxin arrived on February 2 at 5:30 a.m.

This dog sled relay saved Nome and surrounding communities from the epidemic - and the dogs and the mushers became heroes. Headlines about the dog sled delivery hit newspapers across the country. Newscasters on the radio talked all about it. Balto, who was the lead sled dog on the final leg to Nome, became famous - and his statue was erected in New York City's Central Park!

One result of the publicity was that many more people in the U.S. got vaccines against diphtheria. Because of that, the dreaded disease took a big dip in numbers of victims. Excellent!

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