On April 19, 1897, John J. McDermott of New York won the first Boston Marathon with a time of 2:55:10.
The Boston Marathon was the brainchild of Boston Athletic Association member and inaugural U.S. Olympic team manager John Graham, who was inspired by the marathon at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. With the assistance of Boston businessman Herbert H. Holton, various routes were considered, before a measured distance of 24.5 miles from the Irvington Oval in Boston to Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland was eventually selected.
Fifteen runners started the race but only 10 made it to the finish line. John J. McDermott, representing the Pastime Athletic Club of New York City, took the lead from Harvard athlete Dick Grant over the hills in Newton. Although he walked several times during the final miles, McDermott still won by a comfortable six-minute, fifty-two-seconds. McDermott had won the only other marathon on U.S. soil the previous October in New York.
The marathon’s distance was changed in 1908 in accordance with Olympic standards to its current length of 26 miles 385 yards.
The Boston Marathon was originally held on Patriot’s Day, April 19, a regional holiday that commemorates the beginning of the Revolutionary War. In years when the 19th fell on a Sunday, the race was held the following Monday. In 1969, Patriots Day was officially moved to the third Monday in April and the race has been held on that Monday ever since.
Women were not allowed to enter the Boston race officially until 1972, but Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb couldn’t wait: In 1966, she became the first woman to run the entire Boston Marathon, but had to hide in the bushes near the start until the race began. In 1967, Kathrine Switzer, who had registered as “K. V. Switzer”, was the first woman to run with a race number. Switzer finished even though officials tried to physically remove her from the race after she was identified as a woman.
In the fall of 1971, the Amateur Athletics Union permitted its sanctioned marathons (including Boston) to allow female entry. Nina Kuscsik became the first official female participant to win the Boston Marathon in 1972. Seven other women started and finished that race.
In 1975, the Boston Marathon became the first major marathon to include a wheelchair division competition. Bob Hall won it in two hours, 58 minutes.