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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer had a very shiny nose, and that nose helped make him the reindeer we’ve grown to know and love.

The children’s tale of a reindeer with a glowing, red nose was written by Robert L. May for Montgomery Ward. May’s Rudolph is much like he believed himself to be, an outcast who didn’t fit in with the rest of the crowd. Rudolph’s bright, red nose made him the brunt of bullying and excluded him from reindeer games. But in the end, it is that nose that saved the day when Santa needs him to lead the way.

The famous story was written for commercial purposes in 1939. The long-time department store of Montgomery Ward gave away coloring books every year for Christmas. To save money, May was hired to write a story they could use in one of these books and publish themselves. More than 2.5 million copies were distributed that first year alone.

The story became even more popular when May’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, adapted the story into song. Gene Autry’s recording of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer hit the radios in 1949 and was the second best-selling record of all time until the 1980s.

Montgomery Ward turned over the story’s copyright to May in 1947, ensuring him financial security.

©2014, Mary K. Doyle

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