In the winter of 1925, a diphtheria outbreak threatened to kill most of the population of Nome, Alaska. The lone physician in the area, Dr. Curtis Welch, was in dire need of at least one million units of antitoxin to deter an impending epidemic. Unfortunately, the 8,000 units of antitoxin in Nome were already expired. To address the emergency, Dr. Welch sent a telegram to the US Public Health Service in Washington DC explaining the situation and the drastic need for antitoxin. Enter Balto.

Balto and the 1925 serum run to Nome

The nearest supply of antitoxin was located 1,500 miles away from Nome, in Anchorage Railroad Hospital. The challenge was delivering the supply from Anchorage to Nome. Flights were impossible due to a snow storm and marine vessels were out of the question because the sea was frozen.

Cargo was later shipped to Nenana by train, but it was still 674 miles away from Nome. The freezing weather left Governor Bone with no option but to ship the serum using a relay of dogsleds.

The sled dogs took turns carrying the medicine to Nome. Balto was the dog led the final team carrying the serum to Nome. The 1925 Serum Run to Nome was completed in just six days. A journey that long using dogsleds usually takes about a month to complete the journey.

Balto and his teammates became instant heroes in the United States for their incredible journey. On March 19, 1927, Balto and the rest of his team were brought to Cleveland and given a hero’s welcome through a festive parade at Public Square.

Balto and his team were taken to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo (formerly Brookside Zoo) so they could cared for and lived the rest of their lives with dignity. Reports show that about 15,000 people visited the zoo to see the dogs on their first day. Soon after Balto’s death in 1933, his body was stuffed and is now housed in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History’s permanent collection.