Did you know that the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was originally created by a department store? The mega-department store Montgomery Ward wanted to create a new Christmas story in 1939 that they could give away as a free promotion to their customers. They gave the job of creating this story to one of their store writers, a man by the name of Robert May. It was something that Montgomery Ward did every year. It gave away books, coloring books, and other holiday knickknacks as a way to attract customers and keep the loyalty of old ones.
May worked tirelessly to find the new story, and he actually got inspiration from past stories such as the one about the Ugly Duckling, and even his own childhood. Just like the Ugly Duckling, May used to get picked on as a kid because he looked different. That was the story hook he needed for his new Christmas story—the story of a reindeer that was teased because he was different. Rudolph, you see, had a red glowing nose.
May also had help from his 4-year-old daughter, Barbara, who would listen to his story every night to make sure it was kid tested and approved. Next, May had to sell his boss on the idea. Unfortunately, at first glance, Rudolph was not liked by May’s boss. The manager thought that the red nose might not be suitable for Christmas stories and children, since red noses were often associated with drinking too much alcohol.
How did May overcome the trepidation of his boss? He had a friend, Denver Gillan, go to the local zoo to sketch photos of deer. He added the famous red nose, and voila, the cute image was too hard to resist. Next, they needed to come up with a name. At first, May leaned toward Rollo, but then he decided that didn’t sound right for a story that started out so sad. He then considered Reginald, but that name sounded too stuffy and pompous for a little reindeer. Finally, he came up with the name that stuck: Rudolph.
When the story was all finished, it started off as a smash hit. May and the Montgomery Ward store gave out 2.4 million copies of Rudolph’s story in 1939, and would continue to hand out another 3.6 million more over the next 6 to 7 years.
Today, the song about Rudolph is heard in classrooms and holiday parties around the world, and several television shows and cartoons have been made about the little hero who saved Christmas. The song and story have changed a bit since May wrote it. Did you know that in the original version Santa discovered Rudolph while delivering presents to his house? And Rudolph didn’t even live in the North Pole! One thing that is the same in all versions, however, is Santa’s love for his bright nosed reindeer.
Randy Stocklin is the co-owner of Mail from Santa Claus. Mail from Santa Claus offers memorable letters from Santa Claus that help keep the Christmas spirit alive. For more information about Mail from Santa Claus and to purchase a Santa letter please visit www.mailfromsantaclaus.com/ .