“Rudolph the red nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose. And if you ever saw him, you would even say it glows.” For many of us we have grown up with this red nosed icon, but historically this reindeer has only been around for a short period of time.
Robert L. May created the admirable character in 1939. (1) Although May had received a degree from Dartmouth and ambitions to write a famous novel, he ended up in with a job at Montgomery Ward. (2) The company that he was employed in had the tradition of giving free books to children. (1) This tradition lighted the hearts of children especially during the 1930s where the threat of the Great Depression loomed over them and Europe was experiencing the start of a war. (2)
One year May was given the assignment to create a story based on an animal. (2) May had been inspired on a reindeer after his daughter. “…not to mention that his 4-year-old daughter, Barbara, loved the reindeers every time she visited the zoo,” (2) The idea evolved into “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and was progressed over the summer. (2) May’s first wife Evelyn passed away during that summer due to cancer. (2) But rather than becoming distant to his project due to grief May became even more connected with the story.
After May completed his story, featuring a massive 88 couplets, it became a massive hit. “Children snapped up nearly 2.4 million copies of the paper-bound book in 1939,” (2) Although Rudolph was a holiday classic for many children, the company he worked for believed that it had more potential for money. “May licensed a commercial version of the book along with a full range of Rudolph-themed merchandise including puzzles, View-Master reels, snow globes, mugs and slippers with sheep wool lining and leather soles,” (2) All this immense advertising around the character icon began to make him a holiday icon. But the biggest thing that led to the reindeer’s fame was Johnny Mark’s sung version of the story.
Gene Autry’s sung version of “Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer” was a major hit and sold around 2 million copies. (2) All of this fame created a claymation version of the story of Rudolph. Created in 1964, it filled the homes of many children and continues to be a Christmas classic. “I remember watching the claymation version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer when I was younger. Living in New York we only had five to six channels which made this movie special for my family,” English teacher Mr. Van Bloem recalls.
Many of us have fond memories of this red-nosed reindeer and it has become a significant part of our Christmas pop culture. While this character is popular just in the song and movies it has a deeper message of accepting others even for our differences. “I think when I was little I just thought he was a cute little reindeer. But now looking back as an adult I appreciate the story more.” English Teacher Miss May says. During the Christmas season we should listen to May’s message and come together because of our differences rather than be driven apart.