Alaskan dog sled
Contract mail carrier Ed Biederman (1861-1945) used this dog sled for his 160-mile route between Circle and Eagle, Alaska. Sam Olson built the sled of hickory in 1922. It has moose hide lashings and iron runners, brake, and springs, with cotton cords for securing mail loads. In 1935 frostbite crippled Biederman, after which he retired. His son, Charlie Biederman (1918-1995), took over the route. Charlie's days as a dog-sledding mail carrier ended in 1938. He kept the sled in the family and gave it to his nephew, Max Beck, who donated it to the National Postal Museum in 1995.
Dog sleds transported mail in some areas of the northern U.S. states and the Alaskan Territory during winter months. Contract carriers used these sleds across Alaska from the late nineteenth century into the early 1920s. Though most contractors had replaced their sleds with airplanes by the late 1930s, a team still carried mail in Alaska into the early 1960s.
Isolated for many months of the year, remote populations sometimes relied on dog sleds for contact with the outside world. Because weight was a critical factor for the dogs, the sled mail was usually restricted to first-class pieces unless room was available for newspapers, magazines, and packages. These items were otherwise left behind until spring, when they might be transported by steamboat or wagon.
The most commonly used sled dogs were Malamutes, Huskies, St. Bernards, and Newfoundlands. Carriers began training their sled dogs while they were still puppies. Mail carriers and their dogs were treated like royalty on the trail. Road houses offered their best beds to carriers who did not have their own cabins along the trail, and lead dogs slept inside. The first to eat in the morning, carriers and their teams embarked early. Life on the Alaskan mail trails was hard on carrier and animal. A mail dog's life expectancy averaged only three or four years.