How Boston Became the World's Greatest Marathon

An interactive history, 1897 to today

B.A.A. logo
After the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, American team manager John Graham was inspired to create an equally impressive athletic spectacle at home. The following year, the Boston Marathon was born. While only 15 runners competed in the inaugural event, the marathon today attracts thousands of competitors and spectators every year. Scroll down to learn more about how the Boston Marathon transformed from hometown race to one of the world's premier athletic events.
2018 Boston Marathon women's race 2018 Boston Marathon women's race

123 Races and Counting

A Timeline of the Marathon

B.A.A. building, 1880s

The Boston Athletic Association forms on March 15 in order to "encourage all manly sports and promote physical culture." The B.A.A. Clubhouse (pictured) on the corner of Exeter and Blagdon Streets would soon become headquarters for the Boston Marathon.

John McDermott wins first Boston Marathon John McDermott wins first Boston Marathon

Originally called the American Marathon, the inaugural Boston Marathon is run on Patriot's Day (April 19). New York's John J. McDermott emerged as the race's first winner, clocking a time of 2:55:10 on the 24.5 mile course that started in Ashland and ended in Boston.

Ronald J. MacDonald Ronald J. MacDonald

Ronald J. MacDonald of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, becomes the first non-American to win the marathon. MacDonald was a Boston College student at the time of his victory.

Headline of Peter Trivoulides victory

Peter Trivoulides of Greece becomes the first European athlete to win the marathon. Only one other athlete from outside the United States and Canada, Paul de Bruyn of Germany, would win the race before the end of World War II.

Boston Marathon course

The Boston Marathon is extended to 26 miles and 385 meters to conform to the Olympic standard, which was established at the 1908 London Games. The race's starting line moved west from its original location in Ashland to Hopkinton, where it remains today.

Suh Yun-Bok wins 1947 race

Korea's Suh Yun-bok becomes the first Asian athlete to win the marathon, setting a world record of 2:25:39. He remains the only man to break the world record on Boston's notoriously difficult course.

Four years later, in the midst of the Korean War, B.A.A. president Walter A. Brown banned Korean athletes from running in the marathon, saying "While American soldiers are fighting and dying in Korea, every Korean should be fighting to protect his country instead of training for marathons."

Bobbi Gibb in 1966

Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb becomes the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, completing the course in 3:21:40. Gibb was forced to sneak into the field of runners shortly after the race began, as women were not allowed to officially enter until 1972.

Semple attempts to pull Switzer off course

Kathrine Switzer becomes the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon with an official race number, having used only her initials when registering. During the race, B.A.A. official Jock Semple attempted to pull Switzer from the course, reportedly yelling "Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers!" Switzer went on to finish the race after her boyfriend pushed Semple aside.

Members of the Class of 1972

For the first time, women are allowed to officially enter the marathon. Eight women, known as the Class of 1972, competed, and Nina Kuscsik emerged victorious in a time of 3:10:26.

Jim Knaub yells in triumph

Jim Knaub sets a new world record in the men's wheelchair division, which first took place in 1975. Knaub would go on to win three more times at Boston.

Joan Benoit runs to her second Boston victory Joan Benoit runs to her second Boston victory

Joan Benoit (left) wins her second Boston Marathon, setting a world record of 2:22:43. The next year, Benoit won the marathon at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, making her the first athlete to be both Boston and Olympic champion.

Ingrid Kristiansen wins in 1986

John Hancock Financial Services becomes the marathon's primary sponsor, allowing the race to award prize money for the first time. Australia's Robert de Castelia received $60,000 and a Mercedes Benz for winning the men's race, while Norway's Ingrid Kristiansen (left) received only $39,000 after winning the women's race.

Ibrahim Hussein becomes the first African runner to win Boston

Ibrahim Hussein of Kenya becomes the first African runner to win the marathon. Hussein would take Boston again in 1991 and 1992, ushering in a ten-year stretch of Kenyan runners winning the men's race.

Runners at the 100th Boston Marathon

38,708 runners enter the 100th Boston Marathon, which remains the largest field in race history. The 1995 and 1997 races drew only 9,416 and 10,471 runners, respectively.

Memorial for victims of the 2013 marathon attack

A terrorist attack takes place at the marathon, with two bombs detonating near the finish line. Four people died in the attack.

Meb extends fist in celebration

Meb Keflezighi becomes the first American man to win the marathon since Greg Meyer won 31 years earlier.

Desiree Linden powers to the finish line Desiree Linden powers to the finish line

Desiree Linden battles through rain, sleet, and snow to become the first American woman to win Boston since 1985, when fellow Michigander Lisa Larsen Weidenbach took the title.

Dimensions of Change

Since Bobbi Gibb's historic run in 1966, women have become a powerful presence at the Boston Marathon. In 2019, over 45% of athletes in the Boston field were women, and the gap between men's and women's winning times has continued to shrink. Check out the data visualizations below to see how Boston's gender distribution has changed since the race officially opened to women in 1972.

After World War II ended in 1945, the Boston Marathon became increasingly cosmopolitan, with winners from abroad soon overtaking Americans as race champions. After the marathon began offering prize money in 1986, the incentive for elite international runners to compete in Boston grew. See how the nationality of winners changed throughout the marathon's history in the visualizations below.

Boston Marathon finish line

The Marathon Today

Boston is generally regarded as the world's most prestigious marathon. Due to the race's popularity, runners must now meet qualifying standards in order to compete.