It Happened in Evanston

Adored by generations of children, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was originally written in 1939 as a poem by Evanston native Robert L. May.

 A copy writer for Montgomery Ward, May wrote the story for Santa to give away to children visiting the Ward stores. Wards gave away 2.4 million copies of the story, but the war came along and a paper shortage with it. Rudolph didn’t get off the ground again until 1946 when Ward’s reprinted the story and gave away another 3.6 million copies. In 1948 May sent the story to his song-writer friend Johnny Marks and Marks wrote the song Rudolph that Gene Autry sang. The song was a hit!

After leaving Ward’s for about 7 years, May returned in 1958 and stayed until he retired in 1971. Mr. May died in 1976 at the age of 71 in Skokie.

For more information on Rob L. May and Rudolph, see the Evanston History Clipping Files on the third floor of the library or call the Reference Department.

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One thought on “It Happened in Evanston

  1. I worked for Montgomery Ward on the advertising staff in the 70s and 80s. At the time I was hired, Bob May was on the editorial staff, and he was one of the people who interviewed me. He was a really nice guy, and most of the interview consisted of him telling me the story of how he created “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and his mild regrets at not copyrighting it. I was surprised that he could take such a philosophical view of missed fortune, but I think he was a bit more disappointed in the fact that after the story really took off in the form of song (1948) and later TV (1964), most people couldn’t have named the author or origins of the story. It’s nice that we have an occasional shout-out for Bob May.

    Barbara L., Reader’s Services

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