NORAD’s Santa Tracker Has A Totally Adorable Origin Story

If you’re a parent, chances are you know NORAD’s Santa Tracker. NORAD is the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the joint US-Canadian center that tracks aerospace activity, so it seems only logical that NORAD would have the best idea as to Santa’s location on the night of Christmas Eve.

It turns out that the Santa Tracker has an insanely adorable origin story. In 1955, Sears printed an ad with a number for kids to call to talk to Santa Claus. It turned out, though, that the phone number they printed had a typo, and the phone it reached was an emergency line at what was then the Continental Air Defense Command, now NORAD. The only two people who had the number for the phone were Colonel Harry Shoup at the CADC, and a four-star general at the Pentagon. The line was only supposed to ring if there was an attack (this was all happening in the beginning of the Cold War).

One day in December 1955, Shoup’s emergency line rang and a child was on the other end, asking for Santa. Originally Shoup thought it was a prank, but then the boy started crying, and Shoup realized it wasn’t a joke. He backtracked, pretended to be Santa, and asked the child if he could talk to his mother, who informed him that they’d gotten the number from that Sears ad.

The calls kept coming in, so Shoup decided to roll with it, having his airmen answer calls as Santa. Then the airmen upped the ante by drawing a sleigh and reindeer on the aerospace map over the North Pole. Shoup ran with that, too, calling in to a local radio station, saying, “This is the commander at the Combat Alert Center, and we have an unidentified flying object. Why, it looks like a sleigh.” After that, the radio station kept calling back to ask, “Where’s Santa now?” And thus was born the Santa Tracker.

All right, everyone d’aaaaawwwwwww with me. Shoup was a really important figure in national defense in his day, but his kids say that the Santa Tracker became his biggest legacy. And it’s not so bad, being remembered as Santa Claus.

[NPR]

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