Alaska's Winter Mails

Statehood and Beyond

Scott US C53
Alaska Statehood
issued 1959.
Alaska became a state on January 3, 1959. Note that an airmail stamp was issued, since air was the preferred mode of transport for Alaska mails.

Scott US 1128
Arctic Explorations
issued 1959.
Honoring the first underwater trip to the north pole by the submarine Nautilus in 1959, the design also shows a dog sled and team on the ice above to commemorate Peary's successful attempt on the pole in 1909.

Scott US C70
Alaska Purchase
issued 1967.
Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Seward's Alaska purchase from the Russian Empire.

Alaska's last regularly scheduled dog team mail route ended in 1963, when Chester Noongwook of Savoonga retired his team. Noongwook's route, on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Strait, was taken over by a small airplane. While the sled dog is no longer called upon to drag half-ton loads of mail across the Alaskan snows, he is far from forgotten. Racing enthusiasts continue to breed and train huskies, malamutes, and other dogs for the rigors of the sled trail.

Aside from Hollywood, radio, and television productions such as Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, dog sleds might have faded from public attention. However, in 1973 a group of racing enthusiasts in Alaska decided to memorialize the Nome serum run with a marathon sled race over the original route. Thus was born the Iditarod.

From the very first year, Iditarod racers have carried philatelic mail. The total number of covers in each year is limited, and those carried by the first five finishers are auctioned off to raise funds for the race committee.

Cover carried in the 16th Iditarod (1988) by DeeDee Jonrowe and her dogs. It bears two postmarks, one applied in Anchorage at the start of the race and the other when her team reached the finish line in Nome. Jonrowe has yet to win an Iditarod, but she finished second to Jeff King in 1993 and again in 1998.

Other dogsled racers have carried philatelic or commemorative mail to celebrate the dogs' historic importance in mail handling. Mushers in the Yukon Quest, a gruelingly difficult course from Whitehorse in Canada's Yukon to Fairbanks, Alaska, have also made this an annual tradition.

Cover carried in the 1998 Yukon Quest by Brian O'Donaghue. His eleven day time earned him the "Red Lantern" which is traditionally awarded to the last competitor to complete the entire run.

Scott US 2135
Dog Sled 1920s
issued 1986.
This issue from the "Transportation" coil series depicts an Alaskan dogsled of the type commonly used for mail transport.

Part of the route followed by the Yukon Quest retraces the mail route of Charlie Biederman, who donated his sled to the Smithsonian in 1995. The sled has been assigned to the National Postal Museum, where it will be part of an exhibit on the Alaskan mails.

At age 16, Biederman inherited his route (Circle to Eagle) from his father, who had been crippled by frostbite injuries received while mushing with the mail. He made 13 round trips each winter, from November to April, 1936-38, for pay of $75 a month. Air carriers took over his route in 1939.

"They depended on the mail," said Biederman of Alaska's residents in those days. "It was the only way of getting any news, newspapers, magazines, everything."

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Created by Gary Lee Phillips, mail to

1998 Gary Lee Phillips.