The Origin Story of Rudolph the Pink-Nosed Reindeer: How a 1939 Advertising Gimmick Launched a Beloved Christmas Character


It’s time to for­get close to­ly each­factor you already know about Rudolph the Pink-Nosed Rein­deer…a minimum of as estab­lished by the 1964 Rankin/Bass cease movement ani­mat­ed tele­vi­sion spe­cial.

You may dangle onto the supply of Rudolph’s disgrace and even­tu­al tri­umph — the glow­ing purple nostril that acquired him bounced from his play­mates’ rein­deer video games earlier than sav­ing Christ­mas.

Lose all these oth­er now-icon­ic ele­ments —  the Island of Mis­match Toys, long-lashed love inter­est Clarice, the Abom­inable Snow Mon­ster of the North, Yukon Cor­nelius, Sam the Snow­man, and Her­mey the aspi­rant den­tist elf.

As orig­i­nal­ly con­ceived, Rudolph (run­ner up names: Rol­lo, Rod­ney, Roland, Rod­er­ick and Regi­nald) wasn’t even a res­i­dent of the North Pole.

He lived with a bunch of oth­er rein­deer in an unre­mark­ready home some­the place alongside San­ta’s deliv­ery route.

San­ta deal with­ed Rudolph’s home­maintain as if it have been a human tackle, com­ing down the chim­ney with presents whereas the occu­pants have been asleep of their beds.

To get to Rudolph’s ori­gin sto­ry we should trav­el again in time to Jan­u­ary 1939, when a Mont­gomery Ward depart­ment head was already look­ing for a nation­vast hol­i­day professional­mo­tion to attract cus­tomers to its shops dur­ing the Decem­ber hol­i­days.

He set­tled on a e-book to be professional­duced in home and giv­en away freed from cost to any youngster accom­pa­ny­ing their par­ent to the shop.

Copy­author Robert L. Could was charged with com­ing up with a hol­i­day nar­ra­tive star­ring an ani­mal sim­i­lar to Fer­di­nand the Bull.

After giv­ing the mat­ter some thought, Could tapped Den­ver Gillen, a pal in Mont­gomery Ward’s artwork depart­ment, to attract his beneath­canine hero, an attraction­ing-look­ing younger deer with a purple nostril sufficiently big to information a sleigh by thick fog.

(That schnozz will not be with­out con­tro­ver­sy. Pri­or to Caitlin Flana­gan’s 2020 essay within the Atlantic chaf­ing on the tele­vi­sion spe­cial’s explic­it­ly cru­el depic­tions of oth­er­ing the odd­ball, Mont­gomery Ward fret­ted that cus­tomers would inter­pret a purple nostril as drunk­en­ness. In Could’s telling, San­ta is so uncom­fort­ready carry­ing up the true nature of the deer’s abnor­mal­i­ty, he pre­tends that Rudolph’s “gained­der­ful fore­head” is the nec­es­sary head­lamp for his sleigh…)

On the power of Gillen’s sketch­es, Could was giv­en the go-ahead to jot down the textual content.

His rhyming cou­plets weren’t actual­ly the stuff of nice kids’s lit­er­a­ture. A sam­pling:

Twas the day earlier than Christ­mas, and all by the hills, 

The rein­deer have been play­ing, take pleasure in­ing the spills.

Of skat­ing and coast­ing, and climb­ing the wil­lows,

And hop­scotch and leapfrog, professional­tect­ed by pil­lows.


And San­ta was proper (as he usu­al­ly is)
The fog was as thick as a soda’s white fizz


The room he got here down in was black­er than ink

He went for a chair after which discovered it a sink!

No mat­ter.

Could’s make use of­er wasn’t a lot con­cerned with the artwork­ful­ness of the story. It was way more inter­est­ed in its poten­tial as a mar­ket­ing software.

“We consider that an exclu­sive sto­ry like this aggres­sive­ly adver­tised in our information­pa­per advertisements and circulars…can carry each retailer an incal­cu­la­ble quantity of pub­lic­i­ty, and, way more impor­tant, a tremen­dous quantity of Christ­mas traf­fic,” learn the announce­ment that the Retail Gross sales Depart­ment despatched to all Mont­gomery Ward retail retailer man­agers on Sep­tem­ber 1, 1939.

Over 800 shops decide­ed in, order­ing 2,365,016 copies at 1½¢ per unit.

Professional­mo­tion­al posters tout­ed the 32-page free­bie as “the rol­lickingest, rip-roaringest, riot-pro­vokingest,  Christ­mas give-away your city has ever seen!”

The adver­tis­ing man­ag­er of Iowa’s Clin­ton Her­ald for­mal­ly apol­o­gized for the paper’s fail­ure to cov­er the Rudolph phe­nom­e­non  — its native Mont­gomery Ward department had decide­ed out of the professional­mo­tion and there was a way that any sto­ry it ran would possibly certainly cre­ate a riot on the gross sales ground.

His let­ter is simply however one piece of Rudolph-relat­ed ephemera pre­served in a 54-page scrap­e-book that’s now a part of the Robert Lewis Could Col­lec­tion at Dart­mouth, Could’s alma mater.

Anoth­er web page boasts a let­ter from a boy named Robert Rosen­baum, who wrote to thank Mont­gomery Ward for his copy:

I loved the e-book very a lot. My sis­ter couldn’t learn it so I learn it to her. The person that wrote it carried out guess­ter than I might in all my born days, and that’s 9 years.

The magazine­ic ingre­di­ent that trans­fashioned a mar­ket­ing scheme into an ever­inexperienced if not uni­ver­sal­ly beloved Christ­mas tra­di­tion is a track …with an unex­pect­ed facet order of cor­po­price gen­eros­i­ty.

Could’s spouse died of can­cer when he was work­ing on Rudolph, leav­ing him a sin­gle par­ent with a pile of med­ical payments. After Mont­gomery Ward repeat­ed the Rudolph professional­mo­tion in 1946, dis­trib­ut­ing an addi­tion­al 3,600,000 copies, its Board of Direc­tors vot­ed to ease his bur­den by grant­i­ng him the copy­proper to his cre­ation.

As soon as he held the reins to the “most well-known rein­deer of all”, Could enlist­ed his track­author broth­er-in-law, John­ny Marks, to adapt Rudolph’s sto­ry.

The sim­ple lyrics, made well-known by singing cow­boy Gene Autry’s 1949 hit document­ing, professional­vid­ed Could with a rev­enue stream and Rankin/Bass with a skele­tal out­line for its 1964 stop-ani­ma­tion spe­cial.

Display­author Romeo Muller, the dri­ving pressure behind the Island of Mis­match Toys, Sam the Snow­man, Clarice, et al revealed that he would have based mostly his tele­play on Could’s orig­i­nal e-book, had he been capable of finding a replica.

Learn a close-to-final draft of Robert L. Could’s Rudolph the Pink-Nosed Rein­deer, illus­trat­ed by Den­ver Gillen right here.

Bonus con­tent: Max Fleischer’s ani­mat­ed Rudolph The Pink-Nosed Rein­deer from 1948, which pre­serves a few of Could’s orig­i­nal textual content.

Relat­ed Con­tent

Hear Neil Gaiman Learn A Christ­mas Automobile­ol Simply Like Charles Dick­ens Learn It

Hear the Christ­mas Automobile­ols Made by Alan Turing’s Com­put­er: Minimize­ting-Edge Ver­sions of “Jin­gle Bells” and “Good King Wences­las” (1951)

Hear Paul McCartney’s Exper­i­males­tal Christ­mas Combine­tape: A Uncommon & For­acquired­ten Report­ing from 1965

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and creator, most up-to-date­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Well-known: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Well-known Activ­i­ty E book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.



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