Rudolph the Reindeer was Born in Montgomery Ward
Every year, retailer Montgomery Ward would hand out free coloring books around Christmas time. In 1939 the retail giant thought it would be a good idea to create their own Christmas booklet to save money, yet continue to do something special for communities during the holiday season. So they commissioned Robert Lewis May, who had been hired as an in-house copywriter, to create a Christmas booklet.
Executives wanted the booklet to be cheery and uplifting and hinted that an animal theme might be most appropriate.
May's daughter like reindeer so he went with a reindeer themed booklet. And as a boy, May had been teased and mistreated, so he adapted his own life story for the roots of the Rudolph storyline.
One day while in his Chicago office, May looked out his window to see a thick fog roll in from Lake Michigan. The fog was so thick, it was hard to see anything. That's when he decided that the star of his booklet should have a bright red nose so he could light the way for Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve.
He called the main character of his story "Rudolph". He thought of the names "Rollo" and "Reginald" but ultimately settled on "Rudolph" the youngest of the nine reindeer.
While writing the booklet for his employer Montgomery Ward, May's wife Evelyn died of cancer in July of 1939. His boss suggested he stop writing the story and take care of himself and his kids. May's boss even volunteered to finish the Christmas booklet for him. May was grateful but refused to stop working on "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". He felt like he could take care of himself and his family and would also be able to finish the Christmas booklet.
Robert Lewis May's first edition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was distributed to almost 2.5 million Mongomery Ward shoppers starting in August of 1939. The U.S. started rationing paper as part of wartime restrictions so the second installment of the May's booklet didn't come out until 1946. That year, the retailer gave out 3.6 million of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" to its shoppers.
The story of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" has been depicted in plays, movies, books, songs and more. It has become synonymous with Christmas in America. And we owe it all to a low paid in-house copywriter for retailer Montgomery Ward.
Robert Lewis May died on August 10, 1976.