The Origin of Rudolph, The Red-nosed Reindeer

By | November 30, 2019

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Rudolph and Hermey. Source: (

Most Christmas traditions, such as the nativity story, the Christmas tree, gift exchanges, even Santa and his elves, have roots in ancient history. The same cannot be said, however, for a certain reindeer with a very unique nose. Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer was born from the imagination of a Montgomery Ward employee in the mid-twentieth century.

It was 1939 and the United States was still suffering from the Great Depression. Department store chain Montgomery Ward was looking for a way to cut costs on the holiday promotions. They had a tradition of handing out free coloring books to children every Christmas, but this year they decided they could save money by creating their own coloring book rather than buying them from a third party. So, they turned to their copywriter, Robert L. May, to come up with the story for the coloring book.

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Shown are the main entrance and display windows of the San Jose Montgomery Ward department store with cars parked in front. Source: (

If they were looking for a children’s story full of holiday cheer, then May was probably not the best choice to write it. He was under a lot of emotional distress at the time as his wife was battling cancer and the medical bills had left them financially crippled. Nevertheless, he had a passion for writing and a four-year-old daughter named Barbara to serve as a consultant. Barbara was particularly fond of reindeer, so it was a natural choice for the story’s protagonist. The name Rudolph was chosen for the sake of alliteration. When May’s wife passed away in July 1939, the writing of his story provided a much-needed distraction from his grief.