History of the Iditarod

Almost fifty years have passed since the first running of the Iditarod. In that time, the race has gained in popularity and is one of the cultural highlights of the state of Alaska.

The Route

The Iditarod covers almost 1,000 miles of challenging terrain for mushers and dogs. A southern route and a northern route is used in alternate years to bring the race to different parts of the state.

Most of the race utilizes a trail that was in place long before the Iditarod was a sled dog race. The Iditarod Trail has its origins at the turn of the twentieth century, when it was used firstly by Native Alaskans for hunting and traveling, and then cleared by government employees in 1908. In an era where airplanes did not exist, dog teams were tasked with delivering mail and packages to remote areas of Alaska. 

Mushing became a popular winter sport amongst locals in the first half of the 1900s, popularized by the 1925 serum run to Nome (also called The Great Race of Mercy). As a large diphtheria epidemic threatened the inhabitants of Nome, the required antitoxin was almost a thousand miles away in Anchorage. Sled dogs were used as the only reliable way to get the antitoxin from Anchorage to Nome, and a team of one hundred dogs were able to relay the package over a distance of 674 miles from Nenana to Nome.

The First Iditarod Race

In the early 1970s, a man by the name of Joe Redington Sr. – who lived in Alaska – felt it was important to preserve the heritage of sled dogs in the state. After initial races took place in the 1960s, Redington – along with two school teachers, Gleo Huyck and Tom Johnson – formed a plan in October 1972 for the first race to take place in 1973.

The first race attracted 34 mushers, with 22 reaching the finish line. A purse of $51,000 was made available. Dick Wilmarth won the first Iditarod in a time of 20 days, 0 hours, 49 minutes and 41 seconds (for context, modern-day winning times are around 8-9 days). 

After this, Redington became known as the Father of the Iditarod, a phrase coined by local newspapers in Alaska. 

Notable Events

  • 1973 – The first edition of the Iditarod is held, won by Dick Wilmarth.

  • 1978 – The closest finish in the history of the Iditarod, as Dick Mackey beats Rick Swenson by just one second.

  • 1985 – Libby Riddles becomes the first woman to win the Iditarod, the only musher to brave a fearsome blizzard.

  • 1991 – Rick Swenson becomes the first (and so far, only) five-time winner of the Iditarod.

  • 1992 – Martin Buser of Switzerland becomes the first non-US musher to win the Iditarod.

  • 1996 – Jeff King becomes the first musher to complete the race in under ten days.

  • 2017 – Mitch Seavey sets the current record for the fastest finishing time in Iditarod history.

Roll of Honor

YearMusherTime (h:min:s)Notes
1973Dick Wilmarth20 days, 00:49:41
1974Carl Huntington20 days, 15:02:07
1975Emmitt Peters14 days, 14:43:45
1976Gerald Riley18 days, 22:58:17
1977Rick Swenson16 days, 16:27:13First multiple time winner; first non-Alaskan winner
1978Dick Mackey14 days, 18:52:24
1979Rick Swenson15 days, 10:37:47
1980Joe May14 days, 07:11:51
1981Rick Swenson12 days, 08:45:02
1982Rick Swenson16 days, 04:40:10
1983Rick Mackey12 days, 14:10:44
1984Dean Osmar12 days, 15:07:33
1985Libby Riddles18 days, 00:20:17First female winner
1986Susan Butcher11 days, 15:06:00
1987Susan Butcher11 days, 02:05:13First multiple time female winner
1988Susan Butcher11 days, 11:41:40
1989Joe Runyan11 days, 05:24:34
1990Susan Butcher11 days, 01:53:23
1991Rick Swenson12 days, 16:34:39Only five-time winner
1992Martin Buser10 days, 19:17:15First non-US winner
1993Jeff King10 days, 15:38:15
1994Martin Buser10 days, 13:05:39
1995Doug Swingley10 days, 13:02:39
1996Jeff King9 days, 05:43:13
1997Martin Buser9 days, 08:30:45
1998Jeff King9 days, 05:52:26
1999Doug Swingley9 days, 14:31:07
2000Doug Swingley9 days, 00:58:06
2001Doug Swingley9 days, 19:55:50
2002Martin Buser8 days, 22:46:02
2003Robert Sørlie9 days, 15:47:36
2004Mitch Seavey9 days, 12:20:22
2005Robert Sørlie9 days, 18:39:30
2006Jeff King9 days, 11:11:36
2007Lance Mackey9 days, 05:08:41
2008Lance Mackey9 days, 11:46:48
2009Lance Mackey9 days, 21:38:46
2010Lance Mackey8 days, 23:59:09
2011John Baker8 days, 18:46:39
2012Dallas Seavey9 days, 04:29:26
2013Mitch Seavey9 days, 07:39:56
2014Dallas Seavey8 days, 13:04:19
2015Dallas Seavey8 days, 18:13:06
2016Dallas Seavey8 days, 11:20:16
2017Mitch Seavey8 days, 03:40:13Fastest ever completion
2018Joar Leifseth Ulsom9 days, 12:00:00
2019Peter Kaiser9 days, 12:39:06
2020Thomas Wærner9 days, 10:37:47