In January 1925, doctors realized that a potentially deadly diphtheria epidemic was poised to sweep through Nome, Alaska. The only serum that could stop the outbreak was in Anchorage, nearly a thousand miles away. The engine of the only aircraft that could deliver the medicine was frozen and would not start. After considering all of the alternatives, officials decided to move the medicine by sled dog. The serum was transported by train from Anchorage to Nenana, where the first musher embarked as part of a relay aimed at delivering the needed serum to Nome. More than 20 mushers took part, facing a blizzard with −23 °F temperatures and strong winds. Balto, the alpha dog on the final leg, stayed on the trail in near whiteout conditions; his musher stated he could barely see his hand in front of his face. Balto’s team did their leg of the run almost entirely in the dark. During the blizzard, the team missed the last sled dog team and had to take the medicine twice as far but successfully brought it into Nome. The run is commemorated by the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
A statue of Balto, sculpted by Frederick Roth, was erected in New York City’s Central Park on December 17, 1925, just 10 months after Balto’s arrival in Nome; however, Balto was not the only hero dog that day. He represented all the sled dogs involved who along with their mushers completed an incredibly dangerous mission and saved many lives. A plaque at the bottom of the statue bears this inscription:
Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the Winter of 1925.
Endurance · Fidelity · Intelligence