Day 18: Rudolphology

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Hey there, Rudolph. Image: Cathi Kern Borushek for mutterhood.

Did you know that Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was born in Chicago?

Most people know that Santa’s reindeer were originally named in Clement Moore’s 1823 poem, “The Night Before Christmas.” But Rudolph as we’ve come to know him wasn’t born until 1939 when the Chicago-based Montgomery Ward company asked one of its copywriters, Robert May, to come up with a story they could print and distribute as a Christmas giveaway for their customers.

“Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the story of the plucky underdog reindeer and his shiny red nose — with illustrations based on drawings sketched at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo — was a hit. In 1946 Montgomery Ward distributed six million copies of the storybook; a few years later May left the company with the copyright to the story and a windfall for his family.

Rudolph really took off when May’s songwriting brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote the famous “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” song, which was recorded by cowboy crooner Gene Autry. In 1958 Marks co-wrote a second ode, “Run, Run Rudolph,” made famous by Chuck Berry. What followed was a host of books, comics, movies, cartoons, songs and merchandise that cemented Rudolph’s star in the Christmas orbit.

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