About the Serum Run
On January 20, 1925, an outbreak of diphtheria in remote Nome, Alaska set off a chain of events that brought a team of sled dogs to national attention. During the winter, only dog teams could reach Nome along a path called the Iditarod Trail, which was typically used to carry mail from Anchorage. A relay of drivers and a team of dogs took about a month to complete the trip. During the Serum Run of 1925, the 674-mile journey was made in just six days. Balto was the dog leading the team when the serum was successfully delivered to the grateful citizens of Nome. Balto and his teammates became instant heroes across the United States.
After the Race for Life
Weeks after delivering the life-saving serum, Balto and his team starred in the short-subject film “Balto’s Race To Nome.” The two-reel film was released in June 1925. Except for a few studio stills, no print of the film is known to exist today. Unfortunately, Balto and his teammates' future became grim after this brief moment in the spotlight. A dispute between owners over unpaid wages resulted in a tour of the country’s vaudeville circuit for two years. Then, the dogs were transferred to a "dime" museum in Los Angeles, where they caught the attention of Cleveland businessman George Kimble.
Cleveland Steps In
Kimble was outraged by the heroic dogs' fate. So, he struck a deal with the dog’s owner to buy them for $2,000. But Kimble had only two weeks to raise the money. Now there was another race: to save Balto! Across the nation, radio broadcasts appealed for donations. Headlines in the Cleveland Plain Dealer told of the push to rescue the heroes. Cleveland’s response was explosive. Schoolchildren collected coins in buckets; factory workers passed their hats; and hotels, stores and visitors donated what they could. The Western Reserve Kennel Club gave a much-needed financial boost. In just 10 days the headlines read, “City Smashes Over Top With Balto’s Fund! Huskies To Be Shipped From Coast at Once!”
On March 19, 1927, Balto and six companions were brought to Cleveland and given a hero’s welcome in a triumphant parade through Public Square. The dogs were then taken to the Brookside Zoo (now the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo) to live out their lives in dignity. It was said that 15,000 people visited the dogs on their first day at the zoo. Balto died on March 14, 1933, at the age of 14. The husky’s body was mounted and is now housed in the Museum's permanent collection.
To learn more about the Serum Run and how Balto came to Cleveland, download "Balto and the Legacy of the Serum Run" a brochure produced by the Museum's Marketing & Communications Division.