The Nenana Ice Classic began in 1917, and continues to be a part of Spring in the Interior to this day. The annual game of chance is based upon guessing the exact day, hour and minute the ice will melt on the Tanana River, causing a tripod wired to a time clock to break its wire and drift downriver. Winners with the correct guess of when the ice breaks up share a pot of cash based on the purchases of one guess per $2.50 ticket.
This year was was the earliest break-up ever, April 14, 2019. The earliest prior to 2019, was April 20, 1940. The 1940 contest was a memorable one, as reflected in the following newspaper articles:
Fairbanks Daily News Miner April 22, 1940
NENANA ICE SNEAKS OUT SIX DAYS EARLIER THAN EVER BEFORE ON RECORD
Six days earlier than ever before in 24 years of competitive Nenana ice breakup predicting, the Tanana River shook loose its winter cloak at 3:27 p.m. Saturday, bolstering the bank account of 21 year-old Miss Clara Hansen of Anchorage. Miss Hansen cast her vote for the downstream ice to trip the timing tripod at Nenana at 3:28 p.m. April 20, just one minute later than the actual instant when the frozen slab slipped away from its watery moorings near the river city’s docks.
Word that the treacherous ice had crossed up veteran sourdough breaking picking experts by sneaking out almost a week ahead of an even abnormal schedule filtered to Fairbanks within an hour after the Nenana clock was jerked to a stop. George Ball, contest board member, confirmed the report by telephone from Nenana after a radio station broadcast an announcement of the breakup rumor.
Shortly after 7 p.m. Miss Hansen told her own story to Alaska radio listeners in a microphone telephone interview between Anchorage and Fairbanks conducted by local radio station manager Jack Winston. The 1940 winner is a stenographer in the office of the Civil Aeronautics Authority in Anchorage. She is daughter of a prominent Juneau fisherman. She was born in Juneau, and admitted she has lived in Alaska all her life. In her elation she was unable to state how she would dispose of the award.
George Hupprich, manager of the 1940 classic, said by telephone to Fairbanks today that the ice had jumped the gun even on the preparing of catalogues listing all entries and their selected dates. It was the work of almost an hour for the committee to determine finally that Miss Hansen was the only claimant to the grand prize.
About 500 spectators lined the river at a hint that the ice was on its last hinges and weakening. The breakup was described as clean and unspectacular. The slab on which the timer was erected was swept downstream without jamming. A large body of ice about three miles above Nenana was still in place this morning, but with rising temperatures this was expected to come floating past the city sometime today. Not since 1922, 18 years ago, had the ice sheared loose at Nenana before breakup on the Chena River at Fairbanks.
Mrs. Lila Palm was disclosed today as silent partner with Clara Hansen, winner of the Nenana Ice Pool. Both are CAA stenographers. They had four guesses and the winning ticket was their last one. Mrs. Palm marked the tickets, two for each, with verbal understanding they were to share the proceeds if either won. Mrs. Palm came here three years ago from Washington, where she had also been in CAA service. Both were on their jobs today as usual. They declared they had made no plans since winning the pool.
Fairbanks Daily News Miner Wednesday, June 12, 1940
WINNERS OF NENANA ICE CLASSIC REVEAL SYSTEM FOR CORRECT GUESSING
Two Anchorage Ladies Explain Simple Method by Which They Won
Two Anchorage girls, winners of the Nenana annual river breakup prize, when on their biggest adventure of a three months’ vacation “toot” by buying a new auto. Lila Palm and Clara Hansen said they came here “to straighten out their income with Uncle Sam.” At Internal Revenue headquarters they found out the government will net about $12,000 of their $82,000 dollar prize. They said they would invest the balance in education and government bonds. The girls said their “scientific system for winning it is very simple: you figure how long it takes for the ice to freeze, then you’ll know how long it takes to melt.”
Note: The ladies went to the States and had a celebration spree of several weeks duration. Upon their return to Anchorage, Mrs. Palm was taken to court by her husband in his effort to take control of her winnings. The court eventually sided with Mrs. Palm, who then promptly divorced her husband. Hopefully the winners of this year’s Nenana Ice Classic will have better luck than Mrs. Palm did! This winning History Nugget has been proudly brought to you by Men’s Igloo No. 4 and Women’s Igloo No. 8.