Nome (Siqnazuaq in Iñupiaq) is a city in the Nome Census Area in the Unorganized Borough of the U.S. state of Alaska, located on the southern Seward Peninsula coast on Norton Sound of the Bering Sea. According to the 2010 Census, the city population was 3,598. Nome was incorporated on April 9, 1901, and was once the most populous city in Alaska. Nome lies within the region of the Bering Straits Native Corporation (BSNC).
In the winter of 1925, a diphtheria epidemic raged among Inuit in the Nome area. Fierce territory-wide blizzard conditions prevented delivery of a life-saving serum by airplane from Anchorage. A relay of dog sled teams was organized to deliver the serum. The annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race commemorates this historic event.
Inupiat hunted for game on the west coast of Alaska from prehistoric times and there is recent archeological evidence to suggest that there was an Inupiat settlement at Nome, known in Inupiat as Sitnasuak, before the discovery of gold.
In the summer of 1898, the "Three Lucky Swedes": Norwegian-American Jafet Lindeberg, and two naturalized American citizens of Swedish birth, Erik Lindblom and John Brynteson, discovered gold on Anvil Creek. News of the discovery reached the outside world that winter. By 1899, Nome had a population of 10,000 and the area was organized as the Nome mining district. In that year, gold was found in the beach sands for dozens of miles along the coast at Nome, which spurred the stampede to new heights. Thousands more people poured into Nome during the spring of 1900 aboard steamships from the ports of Seattle and San Francisco. By 1900, a tent city on the beaches and on the treeless coast reached , from Cape Rodney to Cape Nome.
Many late-comers were jealous of the original discoverers, and tried to "jump" the original claims by filing mining claims covering the same ground. The federal judge for the area ruled the original claims valid, but some of the claim jumpers agreed to share their invalid claims with influential Washington politicians. Alexander McKenzie,took an interest in the gold rush and secured the appointment of Arthur Noyes as the federal district judge for the Nome region for the purpose of taking control of gold placer mines in Nome. McKenzie seized mining claims with an unlawfully-procured receivership granted by Judge Noyes. Mckenzie's claim-jumping scheme was eventually stopped by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. However, the episode provided the plot for Rex Beach's best-selling novel The Spoilers (1906), which was made into a stage play, then five times into movies, including two versions starring John Wayne: The Spoilers (1942 film) (co-starring Marlene Dietrich) and North to Alaska (1960, the theme of which mentions Nome.) Wyatt Earp, of Tombstone, Arizona fame, stayed in Nome for a short period, but little is known of his activities there.
During the period from 1900 – 1909, estimates of Nome's population reached as high as 20,000. The highest recorded population of Nome, in the 1900 United States census, was 12,488. At this time, Nome was the largest city in the Alaska Territory. Early in this period, the U.S. Army policed the area, and expelled any inhabitant each autumn who did not have shelter (or the resources to pay for shelter) for the harsh winter.
By 1910 Nome's population had fallen to 2,600.
Fires in 1905 and 1934 and violent storms in 1900, 1913, 1945 and 1974 destroyed much of Nome's gold rush era architecture. The pre-fire "Discovery Saloon" is now a private residence and is being slowly restored as a landmark.
In 1925, Nome was the destination of the famous "Great Race of Mercy", where dog sleds played a large part in transporting diphtheria serum through harsh conditions. In 1973, Nome became the ending point of the 1,049+ mi (1,600+ km) Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race held in honor of the serum run.
The sled driver of the final leg of the relay was the Norwegian-born Gunnar Kaasen; his lead sled dog was Balto. A statue of Balto by F.G. Roth stands near the zoo in Central Park, New York City. Leonhard Seppala ran the penultimate, and longest, leg of the 1925 serum run to Nome. One of his dogs, Togo, is considered the forgotten hero of the "Great Race of Mercy", another of his dogs, Fritz, is preserved and on display at the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum in Nome.
World War II and later
During World War II, Nome was the last stop on the ferry system for planes flying from the United States to the Soviet Union for the Lend-lease program. The airstrip currently in use was built and troops were stationed there. One "Birchwood" hangar remains and has been transferred to a local group with hopes to restore it. It is not located on the former Marks AFB (now the primary Nome Airport); rather it is a remnant of an auxiliary landing field a mile or so away: "Satellite Field". In the hills north of the city, there were auxiliary facilities associated with the Distant Early Warning system that are visible from the city but are no longer in use. Nome's population decline continued after 1910 although at a fairly slow rate. By 1950 Nome had 1,852 inhabitants.
Total gold production for the Nome district has been at least 3.6 million ounces.
By 1960 the population of Nome had climbed to 2,316. At this point placer gold mining was still the leading economic activity. The local Inuit population was involved in ivory carving and the U.S. military had stationed troops in the city also contributing to the local economy.