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The Origin of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Decorating for Christmas was always fun in December. Church, family, friends, food, and presents were also a part of the holiday spirit.

Read on to learn about the creators of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Aaron Montgomery Ward and Robert L. May. Rudolph is a beloved Christmas icon and his history deserves to be known.

Read on to learn about the creators of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Aaron Montgomery Ward and Robert L. May. Rudolph is a beloved Christmas icon and his history deserves to be known.

The History of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

How many of you hear that famous song of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer being sung or played during the holiday season each year? Reindeer pulling Santa Claus through the sky on his whirlwind trip to deliver toys to good girls and good boys with Rudolph in the lead seems interwoven into the fabric of Christmas stories. These stories have lived through generations of people.

Do you know the origin of this cute story? I never gave it much thought until I decided to write this post. I'll be happy to share some background information with you so that you can casually mention it at your next get-together with family or friends. They will be impressed by your seemingly endless knowledge.

Hermey the elf and Rudolph

Hermey the elf and Rudolph

Who Was Montgomery Ward?

Visionary Aaron Montgomery Ward started the business of Montgomery Ward, which was the number one mail-order catalog, in 1872. He began the company with a small amount of money and a couple of partners. The partners eventually left Ward as the sole owner.

Mr. Montgomery's idea was to deliver goods to people living in small towns across America, where they did not perhaps have competitive pricing for similar things in their locales. He provided a catalog out of which they could select their purchases. Most of the items would have been shipped by train back in the early days. Those catalogs eventually became large "wish books" from which people could see fashions and dream of items that they might like to own someday.

The first retail store opened in 1926 in Indiana. It eventually expanded to become a department store chain in many towns and cities across the United States of America. From one store and in only two years, Montgomery Ward stores numbered 244. They kept growing exponentially after that. Their main competitor was Sears Roebuck and Company.

What does all this have to do with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?

Montgomery Ward went out of business and closed all of its stores in 2001, but since 2004 it has been an online retailer.

Montgomery Ward went out of business and closed all of its stores in 2001, but since 2004 it has been an online retailer.

Who Was Robert L. May?

For many years Montgomery Ward gave away coloring books and decided that it might be less expensive to create one of their own. An employee named Robert L. May created the character of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for one of those coloring books in the year 1939.

Shoppers were given almost two and a half million coloring books in the first year. That made Rudolph well known among children and their families.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Song

Who Was Johnny Marks?

American songwriter Johnny Marks wrote the song of Rudolph, among many other Christmas songs. Patterned after a poem written by his brother-in-law, Robert L. May, the creator of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, it went viral, mostly when Gene Autry recorded it in 1949. Since that time, it has become a much-beloved song sung by many people each holiday season.

That was one of many Christmas songs I knew well and sang along with my family members each holiday season when I was a child. It is a feel-good song with a good message that still resonates today.

Photo of Gene Autry and Champion from the start of his television series.

Photo of Gene Autry and Champion from the start of his television series.

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Cartoons, Golden Books, and More

  • The first-ever cartoon short featuring Rudolph was in 1948.
  • Golden Books later produced their Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer versions.
  • The first feature film by the same name appeared in 1998.

Comic books, toys, Rudolph ornaments, and more will keep this story alive and well, probably long into the future.

Clip From the Rudolph Cartoon Movie (1998)

Deer Décor

Decorations, including deer statues, sculptures, lawn ornaments, and deer collectibles, are a favorite theme and not just for Christmas and the holidays. Inside a person's home, one might find beautifully crafted collectible deer sculptures made of different mediums. Deer subject matter is popular in pictures or paintings adorning one's walls.

Of course, during the holiday season, reindeer ornaments and illuminated reindeer for the exterior of homes and businesses seem to increase. Many of the homes in subdivisions all across the United States have such Christmas décor, and it adds an attractive element and sparkle to one's landscape.

I hope you enjoyed learning about the origins of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and how that well-known reindeer story originated.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 19, 2019:

Hi C E Clark,

Yes, Christmas is almost here! Like you, I find it interesting to know how many of our traditions originate. The Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer story is an interesting one to be sure. Merry Christmas to you and have a Happy New Year ahead.

C E Clark from North Texas on December 17, 2019:

Christmas is just 8 days after today! This is a great way for people who like to know how many of our traditions started to learn all about Rudolph. Posting this on AH & FB.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 14, 2019:

Hi Patricia,

I can understand why your students enjoyed singing the Rudolph song. It is a catchy tune and one that makes me smile. It helps to put one in a holiday spirit.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on November 14, 2019:

Of course I need a little dose of Rudolph at this time of the year. When I was still teaching the children loved to sing the song, again and again. Hoping all is good with you and yours. Angels bringing all kinds of good things your way ps

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 18, 2018:

Hi Kyriaki,

Like you, I found the origins of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer interesting. As to Santa, I did ponder where he and Mrs. Klaus might be vacationing. Haha!

Kyriaki Chatzi on October 18, 2018:

I'll be honest: I didn't know much about this adorable deer before I read your article. And since I'm a full-blown adult by now, I liked reading the behind-the-scenes story of one of my favorite Christmas characters. Also, I loved your writing, so maybe you'll work on Santa next? Thank you for sharing!!

Robert Sacchi on September 22, 2018:

Yes, the crowds can be fun as long as you're not in a rush to shop.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 22, 2018:

Hi Robert,

The stores certainly do get more crowded the closer to Christmas it gets. I have always preferred shopping early rather than late.

Robert Sacchi on September 21, 2018:

I can understand the stores, "the early bird catches the worm" and all that. There are also advantages to shopping early.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 21, 2018:

Hi Robert,

The years do seem to fly by these days! Ha! The stores always rush the season because it is their most profitable. Christmas trees are already on view in many stores down here along with Halloween and fall decorations. Crazy!

Robert Sacchi on September 20, 2018:

Let's not rush the season. The year is going by fast enough.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 20, 2018:

Hi Ethel,

Happy to be able to inform you about how Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer came into being. It is an interesting story. Yes, that season of the year is soon to arrive!

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on September 20, 2018:

Soon be that time of year again Peggy. Thanks for all the info. Who would have thought? Not me. Rudolph just seems part of the whole Xmas package

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 25, 2017:

Hi Kari,

You really do like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer from what you wrote! Hopefully that tape you made for your daughter has been preserved. Hope your Thanksgiving was a good one and that the rest of the year will be equally good or even better! Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 25, 2017:

Hi Shyron,

I agree. Rudolph does make for a great story. Hope your Thanksgiving was a good one!

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on November 23, 2017:

Hi Peggy, Now I miss the Montgomery Ward stores! I used to love them. I was so sad when they went out of business. I have always loved Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. I know all the cartoons. I had a tape of cartoon shorts for my daughter when she was young, and Rudolph was in a few. Good story about his creation. I really like the part of how the song was made. Happy Thanksgiving!! Have a beautiful day.

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on November 23, 2017:

Peggy, I love to read this every year it is such a wonderful story.

Blessings my friend.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 23, 2017:

Hi Patricia,

That is such an interesting story about how Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer came into being. Glad to be able to share it with you and others.

Wishing you a fun filled Happy Thanksgiving today! Virtual hugs and some prayers accompanying that wish.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on November 21, 2017:

Well I do know the story now Peggy.. And I can amaze and impress my friends as I regale them with my new found knowledge. Who does not love Rudolph?

Angels once again bringing hugs and blessings to you and yours ps

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 08, 2016:

Hi Robert,

Yes, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer certainly is a classic. Now I have that tune in my mind. Ha!

Robert Sacchi on November 07, 2016:

The '60s cartoon Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer is a Christmas classic.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 07, 2016:

Hi Robert,

Like you, I thought that the background information was interesting. Thanks!

Robert Sacchi on November 06, 2016:

Good background on this iconic Christmas character.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 26, 2016:

Hi Susie,

Those would be very special reindeer made by your son that you put on display each year. Nice! Thanks for letting me know about the snowman hub. Hopefully it is corrected now. Not sure why it got so messed up in appearance. Many Christmas decorations in the stores already here and probably elsewhere. Hard not to get in the spirit of things! :)

Susie Lehto from Minnesota on October 24, 2016:

Rudolph is a favorite character for Christmas. I have three wood reindeer the my son made me that get put on display year after year. Little kids love them, and adults adore them too. I'm starting to feel like Christmas!

BTW, your guest book isn't working on your Snowman hub.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 26, 2013:

Hi Shyron,

Glad you liked this. Hope your Christmas was a good one and wishing you a very Happy New year also. :)

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on December 23, 2013:

Hi Peggy, I read about the creation of Rudolph long, but loved reading again.

Voted up, AI, shared and pinned to Awesome HubPages.

Merry Christmas to you and yours again and Happy New Year */:^)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 19, 2013:

Hi Au fait, Merry Christmas to you also! Hope yours is memorable and happy. Thanks for the comment and pin.

C E Clark from North Texas on December 19, 2013:

Came back to review this great article and to pin it to my 'Christmas II' board! Wishing you, Peggy W, and your whole family, the happiest Christmas ever!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 15, 2013:

Hi moonlake,

There is a house a few streets away from our home that always has a big sleigh with Santa and his reindeer on top of the house for each Christmas season and it is illuminated. They also have a bunch of lights and other lighted yard ornaments as well. It is tastefully done. Glad that you enjoyed this hub even if off season. Thanks for the vote and share. :)

moonlake from America on April 15, 2013:

I always like having reindeer decorations in our house, now I don't have as much room for them. Voted up and shared this interesting hub. I like seeing homes with the santa and sleigh on the roof top.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 22, 2012:

Hi Don,

According to the weather reports we were seeing, I assumed that you were getting lots of snow up your way. Hopefully you will get more to ease the drought conditions of last year. We are also trying to catch up from the drought that we had down here. Many dead trees are still standing in many of our parks and wilderness areas despite tree removal and replanting efforts. Our oak trees are dropping acorns like never before! Instead of shoveling snow...we have to continually sweep sidewalks and have quite a raking job do do to remove them from our lawn. We don't want them sprouting!

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on December 21, 2012:

Hi again Peggy. It was a rather snowless winter here until mid December. We got some snow and then most of it melted away a few days ago. Yesterday we got dumped on. I cleared the drive and sidewalks but it filled in again so had to do it again. We had a drought last summer so we do need the moisture. You have a merry Christmas.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 21, 2012:

Hi Don,

That extra bit of trivia about Gene Autry singing the Rudolph song is interesting. I'll bet that he was happy that he listened to his wife!

According to the weather reports it looks like Santa and his reindeer will have plenty of snow in your part of the country for Christmas. It was actually in the 80's a few days ago and it hit freezing temps last night. We have all of our tender vegetation covered with old sheets outside. Will be in the 60's today. That is how our winters in Houston go! All depends if the cold fronts make it down this far south.

Thanks for the votes and share. Merry Christmas!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 21, 2012:

Hi Brett,

Of COURSE Rudolph and the rest of the reindeer team is real! Ha! Stories are about real things as well as fiction. I just KNOW that I heard them on my parent's rooftop when I was a kid. :)) Glad that you liked learning about the history. Appreciate your sharing of this hub. Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer will be heading to your part of the world soon. Keep an eye out for him...or an ear. You just might hear his jingle bells!

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on December 21, 2012:

Hi Peggy. To add a bit of trivia to Rudolph, when Gene Autry was presented with the song, he really didn't want to record it. However, his wife liked the song as it reminded her of the ugly duckling story and convinced him to do it. It was one of his best selling records. Up vvotes and shared.

Brett C from Asia on December 20, 2012:

Some interesting facts. I had never considered it either, until you mentioned it. Nice to know where the story came from ... but, of course, it isn't a story at all ... it's real! ;-p.

Shared, up, and tweeted.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 20, 2012:

Hi Ethel,

I take it to mean that you enjoyed reading about the background of how Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer came into being. I know that I found it interesting. Thanks for your comment. :)

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on December 20, 2012:

Fancy Peggy?You just sort of take it for granted dont you without wondering about the background. Thanks for sharing :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 19, 2012:

Hi Au fait,

We have watched many a rendition of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer over the years. It is such a cute story. Thanks for your votes, the 5 star rating, the share...and most important...a Very Merry Christmas to you too.

C E Clark from North Texas on December 19, 2012:

When my daughter was growing up we always had to watch the cartoon Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and of course listen to the song. I collected reindeer for a while, but it's so hard to keep up with all that anymore. I just have a few crystal deer left and they're so pretty, but very delicate.

A wonderful hub for Christmas and it's almost here! Merry Christmas to you Peggy W. Voted up, AUBI, and will share -- Yes, and 5 stars too!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 11, 2012:

Hi Sunnie,

Nice that I could tell you something about the iconic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer that you did not know. I was amazed at its origin also. Of course he is the cutest...after all...he has that shiny red nose! Ha! Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 11, 2012:

Hi Mary,

I KNOW what those pages from the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs were used for in those outhouses. Haha! They had a utilitarian purpose way beyond browsing and dreaming of things by looking at all the photos. Those were nice guys...Gene Autrey and Roy Rogers. "Hi ho Silver...away!" Remember the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans shows? Loved watching those shows when I was a kid. Thanks for your comment, votes and the share of this hub about Rudolph.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 11, 2012:

Hi Stacy,

When I was a teenager in McAllen, Texas...Montgomery Wards and Sears were the two largest department type stores there in which we shopped and purchased clothing and other items. I had no idea that the original idea of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer came from an advertising piece related to Montgomery Wards until I did the research for this hub. Appreciate your visit!

Sunnie Day on December 10, 2012:

Hi Peggy, so happy this was shared once again. I did not know this about Rudolf. Thank you so much for writing this wonderful hub. Rudolph truly has brought a lot of joy into Christmas, being the cutest of all the reindeer of course.

Thank you,

Sunnie

Mary Hyatt from Florida on December 10, 2012:

At the risk of giving my age away, I grew up with MontgomeryWard and Sears Catalogs. We had outdoor "johns", and I won't tell you what we used the pages of the catalogs for...

I enjoyed reading about the origin of Rudolph, I never heard of how it originated. I do remember Gene Autrey, he was a favorite of mine after Roy Rogers.

Good Hub for the Christmas season...I voted it UP, etc. and will share.

Stacy Harris from Hemet, Ca on December 10, 2012:

Very interesting story. I have to admit, it has been years since I have heard of Montgomery Wards. I always enjoyed shopping there. Too bad they went out of business.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 05, 2012:

Hi alocsin,

I don't think that we ever had a specific Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer ornament on any of our Christmas trees either, but deer ornaments are certainly popular at all times of the year as yard ornaments, etc. Thanks for your comment.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on April 05, 2012:

I don't know that anyone in my family has ever used a rudolph the red nosed reindeer ornament. The fact that there are such decorations is fascinating to me. Thanks for explaining their origins. Voting this Up and Interesting.