Back in the 1930's, when shoppers swarmed downtown Chicago each Christmas season, a trip to visit Santa Claus was every child’s delight.  Each department store would set up a giant holiday display with Santa on a big throne at the center.  Montgomery Ward was known for producing special coloring books each year, which Santa would give to the children who visited him with a parting reminder to “be good.”  In 1939, the store executives wanted something different, so they assigned Robert May the task of writing a Christmas story, preferably with an animal as the main character. 

                Robert May with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Although Bob was going through a difficult time due to his wife’s bout of cancer, he drew inspiration from his own childhood as well as from his four-year-old daughter, Barbara, and created a character who would come to be known and loved by generations of children.  Bob was always small for his age as a child, and experienced mockery by other children, as well as being held back from competing in sports.  This is reflected in his story of Rudolph, a young reindeer with an unusual nose, who also endures ridicule before rising above his deformity and saving the day when fog threatens to keep Santa Claus from taking off on his annual gift-giving trip. 

                                         Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Book by Robert May

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was originally written in rhyming verse and became an instant hit.  It was later adapted into a nine-minute cartoon, as well as a song, which was written by Bob’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, and recorded by Gene Autry.  Today, it remains a classic part of Christmas music and bedtime stories, giving joy to children and adults alike.



By Elise Nordberg,

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