Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Robert Lewis May (1905-1976)
Chicago: Montgomery Ward, 1939
This favorite Christmas story was written exclusively for Montgomery Ward & Co., which was looking for a strategy to encourage youngsters to visit the department store. The store had been buying and giving away coloring books as a Christmas gimmick and decided to save money by creating something similar, in-house.
Robert May, a thirty-four year old copywriter on the advertising staff, wrote the booklet as a give-away for children during the Christmas shopping season. May was graduated from Dartmouth College in 1926 and joined Montgomery Ward in 1936. He was known to his colleagues for his unpublished children’s stories and limericks.
Rudolph was hugely popular (two and a half million copies were distributed in 1939 alone), and Montgomery Ward continued to publish it every Christmas until 1946, by which time six million copies had been given away. Because May had created the story as an employee of Montgomery Ward, he received no royalties. But in January 1947, May persuaded its corporate president to turn the copyright over to him. His financial future was assured.
May claimed that the success of Rudolph enabled him to put his six children through college. May quit his job in 1951 and spent many years managing his creation before returning to Montgomery Ward seven years later, where he worked until his retirement in 1971.
May sent a copy of Rudolph to his friend, songwriter Johnny Marks, who wrote the tune that made Gene Autry famous.
Forty-one color illustrations by Denver Gillen. This copy was given to Sue Epperson McCoy, five years old, in 1939, as a promotional from the Junction City, Kansas Montgomery Ward. She donated it to the J. Willard Marriott Library.