The Port of Nome is located on the Norton Sound off the Bering Sea in western Alaska. The Port of Nome is just 225 nautical miles east of the Port of Providenija in Russia, while it is 652 nautical miles from the Port of Dutch Harbor in Unalaska. To the north of the Port of Nome is the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, a portion of the land bridge that once connected Asia and North America that is believed to be the route of humans into the New World. In 2005, almost 3600 people called the Port of Nome home.
The economy of the Port of Nome depends on fishing, transportation, reindeer herding, Eskimo handicrafts, and tourism. During the summer, freight steamers bring people and cargo to the Port of Nome. Roads radiate from the Port of Nome into the arctic tundra. Airlines serve the city throughout the year. The Port of Nome is famous for its historic role in the Alaska Gold Rush and for being the destination city for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Inupiat-speaking peoples hunted for game in the area of the future Port of Nome during prehistoric times. Archeological evidence suggests that there was an Inupiat settlement called Sitnasuak at the site of the Port of Nome before gold was discovered in the area.
In 1898, three Swedish Americans discovered gold on Anvil Creek during the summer. By the winter, the outside world knew about the discovery. In 1899, the Port of Nome had a population of ten thousand. Called the Nome Mining District, prospectors found gold in the beach sands for miles along the Port of Nome coast, attracting many more hopeful people to the area.
By the spring of 1900, thousands more people were flooding the Port of Nome on steamships from San Francisco and Seattle. A tent city grew up on the beaches that reached 48 kilometers from Cape Nome to Cape Rodney.
As many as 20 thousand people lived in the Port of Nome area during the period from 1900 to 1909. The 1900 US Census identified almost 12.5 thousand, the largest recorded population. At this time, the Port of Nome was the biggest city in the Alaska Territory. Policed by the US Army, residents who did not have or could not pay for shelter were forced to leave the city before the hard winter set in. By 1920, the population had decreased to 852 after the easy-to-reach gold sources had been exhausted. Gold mining continued to be the major source of income for the Port of Nome until the 1960s when the dredge fields were closed. Over its history, the Port of Nome has produced at least 3.6 million ounces of gold.
"Claim jumping" became a problem when late-comers, jealous of the first prospectors' good luck, attempted to file claims on the same property. While the federal courts supported the first claims, Republican Party official Alexander McKenzie was able to get a crony appointed as federal judge for the Port of Nome. McKenzie and his appointee went to Alaska with the goal of stealing the area's most productive gold mines. While the theft was eventually stopped, the story became the base of a best-selling novel by Rex Beach, The Spoilers, which was made into a movie five times. John Wayne and Marlene Dietrich starred in the most popular version of the movie.
Most of the Port of Nome's gold-rush architecture was destroyed in 1905 and 1934 fires and by violent storms that came in 1900, 1913, 1945, and 1974. One pre-fire property, the Discovery Saloon, survives as a private residence that is being restored.
In 1925, Eskimo natives were hit hard by an epidemic of diphtheria. To help, dog sleds were used to move diphtheria serum through terrible winter conditions. In honor of this historic life-saving event, the Port of Nome was the destination for the more than 1.6 thousand kilometer Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race that began in 1973.
The Port of Nome was the final stop of the ferry system that was used for planes from the United States destined for the Soviet Union in a Lend-lease program during World War II. The airstrip built by the US military is now the Port of Nome's airstrip, and the former Marks Air Force Base is now the Nome Airport.
Today, gold mining is still an important industry in the Port of Nome. Other major sectors of the local economy include government, road construction and repairs, and carpentry.