The Siberian Husky was originally bred by the Chukchi people of northeastern Asia, a semi-nomadic group, who depended on their dogs to transport their families and their belongings to seasonal hunting grounds. The Chukchis bred the Siberian Husky to travel great distances at moderate speeds, pulling a loaded sled in low temperatures, with a minimum expenditure of energy. The Chukchi people maintained the purity of their sled dog breed through the 19th century and research indicates that these sled dogs were the direct ancestors to the breed now known in the United States and Canada as the Siberian Husky.
In the early 1900’s, Americans in Alaska began to hear stories about these wonder dogs from Siberia. Sleddog teams reliably transported supplies, freight, and the U.S. Mail between Alaskan villages for many years prior to the advent of airplanes and snow machines. Drivers and dogs were a hardy and proud group, braving the worst weather conditions to get their cargo to its destination. The first all Siberian Husky team debuted in the All Alaska Sweepstakes Race of 1909. In 1910, a team of Siberian Huskies driven by John “Iron Man” Johnson won the grueling 400 mile race. Into the next decade, teams of Siberian Huskies bred by Leonhard Seppala won most all of the racing titles in Alaska.
In 1925, the city of Nome, Alaska was stricken by a diphtheria epidemic and there was not an adequate supply of the necessary antitoxin available to treat those in need. Due to the cold and stormy winter conditions, the only way to transport the serum was by dogsled. Twenty sled dog drivers and 150 dogs, including Leonhard Seppala, were called upon to relay the life saving serum from the town of Nenana, over 600 miles away. The sled dog relay began on January 27th and for five and one half days the sled dog teams battled the harsh Alaskan winter in sub zero, blizzard like conditions. Their progress was followed by people from around the world via telegraph. Leonhard Seppala and his team of 20 Siberian Husky sled dogs guided by his lead dog, Togo, had the longest and most dangerous leg of the relay.
Seppala’s team left Nome for the village of Shaktoolik 170 miles away over the frozen Norton Sound on the Bering Sea to meet the next relay team and then raced back to the village of Golovin, a distance of 91 miles with the lifesaving serum wrapped in caribou skins to prevent it from freezing. On February 1st, a team driven by Gunnar Kasson and led by his lead dog, Balto, arrived in Nome. In total, the serum run covered a distance of an astonishing 674 miles. The famous diphtheria serum run has been commemorated by the modern day Iditarod Sled Dog Race, begun in the 1970’s and held annually, covering a distance of approximately 1000 miles from Anchorage to Nome.