Have you ever wondered how certain stories come about? This is about
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer...
Montgomery Ward... once a catalog and retail giant closed all their stores
in 2001, but they left behind one thing that will probably live on forever. What
started as a marketing gimmick has become a beloved Christmas story.
In the early 30's Montgomery Ward would have their store Santa hand out
coloring books to all the children. A way to save a few dollars, they decided to
create and publish their own storybooks to give away.
In 1939, they gave the job to Robert May who worked for Montgomery Ward as
a copywriter. Based on his own childhood experiences of being shy, small, and
sickly. He decided to write about a reindeer who would not fit in... the glowing
red nose! Names that were considered were Rollo (to cheerful for a misfit)
Reginald (just to British)... Rudolph was a favorite name that May's daughter
Barbara enjoyed the most. He proceeded to write Rudolph's story in verse, as a
series of ryhming couplets, testing it out on his 4-year-old daughter. Barbara
loved the story, May's bosses was worried that a story about a red nose
-associated with drinking and drunkards- was not appropriate for a Christmas
tale. May asked Denver Gillen, a friend from Montgomery Ward's art department,
to the Lincoln Park Zoo to sketch some deer. Gillen's drawings of a red nosed
reindeer helped overcome any hesitance from May's bosses, and the Rudolph story
was approved. In 1939 Montgomer Ward distributed 2.4 million copies of the
Rudolph booklet and although a wartime paper shortage curtailed printing for the
next several years, a total of 6 million copies had been giving away by the end
Since, May was an employee of Montgomery Ward he did not hold the copyright
for Rudolph... May's wife had died from cancer about the time he wrote the story
and now deeply in debt from the medical bills. May persuaded Montgomery Ward's
corporate president, Sewell Avery, to turn the copyright over to him in 1947.
With the rights in hand, May's financial security was assured.
In 1947, May's brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, wrote the song to
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Sang by Gene Autry in 1949, sold 2 million
copies that year.
This is a wonderful story that I learned as a young 17 year old girl who
worked for the retail company called Montgomery Ward. In 1989 we celebrated the
50 year anniversary and gave away many more books.
Dixie & Linda