The History of Iditarod

The history of the Iditarod sled dog race is a fascinating and inspiring topic. With roots deep in Alaskan history, the Iditarod honors the men and women who formed a vital part of Alaskan heritage.

Riding the Iditarod Trail
The Iditarod Trail is a National Historical Trail, based on the path used for winter travel in early Alaska. The Iditarod Trail runs from Nome to Anchorage. It was used to haul everything from gold to groceries in early Alaskan history. Even when airplane travel became a more common method of carrying supplies, the trail remained useful during harsh Alaskan winters, when snow and ice made it too dangerous to fly. Sled dogs were a vital link between Nome and the outside world until the 1960s, when snowmobiles became the preferred method of travel.

Famous Events on the Iditarod Trail
One of the most famous happenings on the Iditarod Trail was a medical supply run to Nome. In 1925 a diphtheria outbreak threatened Nome, but there was no safe way to get medical supplies there to treat the epidemic. Twenty mushers ran a life-saving relay from Nenana to Nome, carrying the supplies 674 miles to the sick patients waiting for them.

While other famous runs along parts of the Iditarod Trail have carried gold and supplies, the "Great Race of Mercy" in 1925 is commemorated every year in the Iditarod sled dog race. The famous dog Balto carried the package into Nome, and a statue stands in Central Park in New York honoring Balto and all the mushers and dogs who ran the trail to keep Nome alive.

Alaska's Mushing History
Mushing races aren't new in Alaska. Mushing was a popular winter activity before the Iditarod began. The All-Alaska Sweepstakes was a popular pastime when many Alaskan mining towns shut down for winter. Mushers competed to win a purse in this race from 1908 to 1918. International mushing competitions occur annually in several locations, including the Yukon Quest in parts of Alaska and Canada.

Iditarod Origins
The Iditarod race began in 1973. While a few prior races took place in the late 1960s, they didn't catch on in popularity because they didn't offer prize money or capture the imagination of participants. When the Iditarod race trail was conceived and the first race run, corporate sponsorship quickly followed. The Iditarod has been running strong since then.

Rick Swenson is one of the best-known names in the Iditarod, with five wins spanning three decades. Susan Butcher is the first woman to win four Iditarod races, while Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the race in 1985. Lance Mackey is an Iditarod competitor who won both the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest in 2007 and 2008, becoming the first man to win both races in the same year. 

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