While the story itself was written by one man, Robert May, the tale was created and popularized expressly for Montgomery Ward retail stores. May, who worked for Montgomery Ward as a copywriter, turned out this tale for the retail chain as a way for the company to save money on holiday promotional materials. Montgomery Ward had been producing holiday coloring books to hand out to children at Christmas, and the original story seemed to be a great way to create a promotional theme that could extend beyond the mundane gesture of a coloring book. Little did anyone at Ward’s know that Rudolph (almost Reginald incidentally) would outlast every single store in their retail empire.
A few fun facts:
1) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was originally published by Montgomery Ward in 1939.
2) Montgomery Ward gave the rights to the story to the author as they agreed with him that he deserved the money for it although he created the story while in their employ and under their direction.
3) May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, wrote the famous song of the same title.
4) The song version of the tale was passed over by several artists and was made a hit in 1949 by Gene Autry.
5) May based Rudolph and his famous nose on his own experiences as a youth, coupled with a proverbial nod to “The Ugly Duckling.”
First Issue Points for the original 1939 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:
*Back cover states “Montgomery Ward Wishes you a Merry Christmas – This book is yours, with our compliments”
*Title page reads “Copyright, 1939, By Montgomery Ward & Co.”
*Elves must be helping to pack the sleigh on page six.
*The plane on page nine has only THREE propellers.
By Mike Cotter, Director of Operations