Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer History
Because of his story, he sent a powerful message to everybody that it’s okay to be different. Embrace your differences because that unique quality makes you special.
Like many people in this world, Christmas is my favorite time of the year. From the beautiful snow to hot chocolate, and holiday shopping, it’s the season that I look forward to the most.
Although the presents and catchy music gets me in the holiday mood, I can’t help but wonder how certain characters and movies became well-known for the holiday season.
For example, why do we associate certain animals with Christmas?
Then this random thought came to me one evening when I was watching a Christmas movie on Life Time. I had my cup of water, I was staring at the screen, and it suddenly hit me: Where did Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer come from and why is he so popular during Christmas?
Immediately, I did some research on the topic, and dare I say, I was surprised by the origin of the story.
Who knew a reindeer would become the “face” of Christmas next to the legendary Saint Nicholas because of an assignment that was given to a copywriter.
Robert May was a copywriter for a Chicago-based company named Montgomery Ward. May was given the assignment to write an animal-themed story for Christmas. Of course, May thought it was fitting to choose a reindeer because we often associate reindeers with Christmas anyway.
In this story, May came up with a general plot that this reindeer was going to be an outcast who was bullied for his luminescent nose. Due to his unique nose, he helped guide Santa’s sleigh and delivered the presents in time before Christmas morning. Ultimately, this reindeer saved Christmas because of its red nose.
There were many inspirations for this reindeer’s story. According to TIMES and History, Rudolph was inspired by the “Ugly Duckling” story. Second, it was inspired by May’s childhood and how he was bullied as a child. May expressed to Guideposts Magazine (Jan 1975), that he was a small, frail, and poorly coordinated child. Like many kids who stood out from the crowd, May was an easy target for being bullied.
To continue, Rudolph’s name was chosen after a couple of brainstorming sessions. May wanted the name to reflect the misfit and uniqueness of the reindeer. As for the eight other reindeers in the story, their names were inspired by the 1820s poem “A Visit From Saint Nicholas.” As we all know, the eight reindeers names flow and rhyme with each other. Unlike Rudolph’s name where it’s longer, (somewhat) awkward, and it doesn’t rhyme with the other Reindeers names.
Furthermore, May worked on this assignment throughout the summer, but the season was anything but easy for him because of his wife, Evelyn. According to Business Insider, Evelyn May had cancer which meant Robert had to take care of her and pay the expensive medical bills. Because of the medical bills, May was put into heavy debt.
As if this situation didn’t get any worse, Mrs. May later passed away in July of 1939. Even though Robert May was dealing with so much in his personal life, he continued to hustle and work on his Christmas project. Later, it was revealed that the lonesome reindeer (Rudolph) was inspired during the time frame of Mrs. May’s death and how Robert May was mourning over her death (via History).
Once the story was finished and ready to be released to the public, Montgomery Ward had a catchy holiday advertisement for the story. Little did anyone know that 2.4 million free copies of the paper-bound book were going to be given during the holiday season. As they prepared for another 1.6 million copies to be released, it was, unfortunately, delay due to World War II.
In 1946, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer reached another peak of popularity. Which led Montgomery Ward to hand out another 3.4 million free copies of the book. As time flew by, Robert May eventually remarried, became a father again, but he was still struggling financially. That was when Montgomery Ward gave the copyrights to Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer to May. Allegedly, the Chicago-based company claimed that the story couldn’t make money so they gave the rights to Robert May.
After obtaining the rights, May licensed a commercial version of the book which included puzzles, snow globes, mugs, and many more tangible items. The merchandise was one of the ways that helped May become financially stable, however, what gave him the best form of income was the catchy Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer holiday song.
In 1949, Johnny Mark, aka May’s brother-in-law, turned this spectacular story into a song. Originally, this song was offered to Bing Crosby, but for some unknown reason, Crosby declined the offer. However, in 1950 another version of the song was recorded and Bing Crosby sang along with John Scott Trotter and his Orchestra. Rewinding to 1949, Harry Brannon was actually the first person to sing the song before Gene Autry recorded the hit single which made №1 in the U.S charts.
Once May was financially stabled, he left Montgomery Ward in 1951 to focus on the Rudolph brand. Unfortunately, things didn’t last very long and 7 years later May came back to Montgomery Ward to be a copywriter again. Roughly 5 years after his retirement in 1971, Robert May passed away on August 10, 1976.
Even though the man himself is not here with us today, his story will continue to share his legacy. Because of his story, he sent a powerful message to everybody that it’s okay to be different. Embrace your differences because that unique quality makes you special.