Friday, December 23, 2016

American History 101: How NORAD Started Tracking Santa Claus!

This year a record number of children (and adults, let's be honest here people...) will spend a reasonable amount of time tracking Santa Clause via NORAD's App, or the website or even following the Big Guy's progress on Twitter.  Over the past several decades, we have all grown accustomed to hearing updates from NORAD on Santa's progress, and NORAD has kept up with the technology by adding Twitter, a web page, apps for all major platforms to their phone line and radio updates.  

So how did this Christmas tradition begin?  Well... with a typo in a holiday advertisement.  That's how!

Every American has heard tales of the "red phone" that connects the hotline between the President and the commander at NORAD for that... unthinkable moment.  It is a little piece of irony that the bringer of peace, love and
Sears 1955 Advertisement to call Santa Claus
-- that actually called NORAD!
lifelong memories would come together with the bringer of destruction and obliteration... but on Christmas Eve in 1955 that is exactly what happened.  In 1950's Cold War America, that red phone did not actually go between the President and the Big Guy and NORAD, it was a red phone -- that much is factual -- but it had a phone number, just like every other phone in America.  And the only people with that number in 1955 was a four star General at the Pentagon and Colonel Harry Schoup at NORAD's Continental Air Defense Command.  And on December 24, 1955 -- Colonel Schoup hear the sound that he always feared would cut through the air... the phone rang.

Colonel Schoup must have felt a sense of apprehension and fear as he lamented that the phone just had to ring the night before Christmas, and what that might mean to the world and its children.  And as he steeled himself for the voice that would be on the other end of the phone, the voice that would mean there would be Christmas this year... instead of having to carry out orders that he never wanted to receive, he was stunned by the words that the voice on the other end of the line spoke.

"Santa, is that you?"

When Colonel Schoup heard the child on the other end of the line, his first reaction was probably not what the child was hoping for... when he said, "Is this a joke?" -- the child began to cry and he realized it was no joke at all.  Colonel Schoup decided to play along with the child, and when he'd finished hearing what the tyke wanted for Christmas, Schoup asked to speak to the child's parents.  It was only then that the child's mother told him of the advertisement that Sears ran in their local newspaper.  The advertisement told the children of America that they could talk to Santa by calling... NORAD.  Schoup quickly realized this was simply a mistake, so when he hung up the phone he was about to take steps to correct the problem -- but then the phone rang again.  And again... and again.  And after a few calls he realized that he needed help!  He acted quickly and decisively in the midst of this holiday crisis, as his military training had taught him to do.  He gathered some of the other officers, got them phones and they all began answering phone calls from children all over the country.  And when he walked into the large room with the map of the world that showed the global positioning of the American armed forces, he saw a picture of Santa Claus traveling across the country... at that moment he decided to pick up the phone and call a local radio station identifying himself as the "commander at the Combat Alert Center" and telling them that they just spotted an "unidentifed flying object.  Why, it looks like a sleigh!"  The radio station continued to check in with Colonel Schoup and get updates on Santa's location throughout the night.  And thus, the holiday tradition was born.

Throughout the years, Colonel Schoup became known as the "Santa Colonel" and was very proud of the tradition that he helped create.  He was known to carry a locked briefcase with him at all times, he was pretty important after all.  But... inside did not contain top secret papers that held information about a secret bombing (well, maybe it did...) instead, it held letters that people all over the world had written to him thanking him for all he'd done to help generate the holiday spirit for them, and their children.

Follow Santa on NORAD's App (iOS / Android / Windows), NORAD's Website or Twitter this year!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Bruce holds a degrees in Computer Science, Biblical History and American History from Temple University, Liberty University and American Public University.  He is a member of the Historical Studies Honor Society and the Saber and Scroll Society.  He has worked in educational technology for over 20 years, specializes in building infrastructures for schools that work to support the mission of technology in education in the classroom.  He also has served as a classroom teacher in Computer Science, History and English classes.  

Be on the lookout for Towering Pines Volume Two: The Sound and the Fury which is currently a work in progress.

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