BALTO was a sled dog who became a national hero. He weighed 45 lb. at most and was probably a mix of Siberian Husky, Malamute, and wolf.

When diphtheria threatened Nome, Alaska, in January 1925, the city found itself without a supply of antitoxin. The community was almost completely isolated from outside resources by the arctic winter and the only means of travel into town was by dog sled.

Authorities established a relay system of sled dog teams to transport the needed serum from Fairbanks to Nome, a distance of 674 miles. For six days, drivers and dogs struggled against high winds and temperatures as low as minus-30 degrees Fahrenheit. With driver Gunnar Kassan nearly frozen and blind from the weather, it was Balto who led the sled on its final 55-mile leg, arriving with the serum in Nome on 2 February 1925.

While in Los Angeles in February 1927, Cleveland businessman George Kimble discovered Balto and his team being exhibited in a "dime museum." Outraged by the animals’ poor condition and degradation, Kimble negotiated to purchase the dogs for $2,000. Working with the ANIMAL PROTECTIVE LEAGUE, the Western Reserve Kennel Club, and Judge James Ruhl, and with support from the PLAIN DEALER, Kimble organized a fundraising drive to bring the dogs to Cleveland. Within ten days, the Balto Fund collected more than $2,300. 

The dogs arrived in Cleveland on 19 March and were given a parade and a hero's welcome before moving to their new home at the Brookside Park Zoo (see CLEVELAND METROPARKS ZOO). In November 1927, Balto, Gunnar Kassan, and several other dogs from the team were the feature attraction at a State Theater vaudeville show. After his death on 14 March 1933, Balto was stuffed, mounted, and presented to the CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, where he still remains. A bronze statue of Balto, sculpted by Frederick Roth in 1925, can be seen in New York’s Central Park.

The sled dog Balto, named for explorer Samuel Johansen Balto, stands beside his owner, Gunnar Kasson, ca. 1925. CPL
Balto and his owner, Gunnar Kasson, ca. 1925. CPL

Updated by Christopher Roy on 5 February 2024.

Ungermann, Kenneth. The Race to Nome: The Story of the Heroic Alaskan Dog Teams that Rushed Diphtheria Serum to Stricken Nome in 1925.

Standiford, Natalie. The Bravest Dog Ever: The True Story of Balto.


Graphic Cleveland Memory in Green and Black Typeface reading "History at your fingertips  Cleveland

View image of Balto at Cleveland Memory.

View image gallery of Balto at Cleveland Memory.

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