Why Did NORAD Start Tracking Santa Claus?

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Every year on Christmas Eve the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) tracks Santa Claus as he leaves the North Pole and delivers presents to children around the world.

NORAD Santa tracker

But how did this all start? Why did NORAD start tracking Santa?

Because of a typo!

Yep, you heard me…a typo that was printed in a Sears department store placed an advertisement in a Colorado Springs newspaper which told children to telephone Santa Claus including a number for them to call.

However, the telephone number printed was incorrect, and calls instead came through to Colorado Springs’ Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Center.

On December 24, 1955, the red telephone at CONRAD began to ring. When the red phone rang, it meant that it was either the Pentagon or CONAD commander-in-chief General Earle Partridge was on the other end, and their reason for calling would probably not be pleasant.

U.S. Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, director of operations at the center, rushed over to the phone and grabbed it.

“Yes, Sir, this is Colonel Shoup,” he barked. 

Nothing but silence in response.

“Sir? This is Colonel Shoup,” he said.

Silence again.

“Sir? Can you read me alright?” 

Finally, a soft voice on the other end.

“Are you really Santa Claus?” a little girl asked.

Shoup was stunned for a second. This must be a joke, he thought. He looked around the room, expecting to see his men laughing at their prank, but found stony, serious faces all around.

He realized that there was “some screwup on the phones,” and decided to play along.

“Yes, I am,” he answered.“Have you been a good little girl?”

The phone call went on for a while longer and the little girl asked all sorts of questions. Shoup thanked the little girl for telephoning in and let her know that Santa had a lot of traveling to do that night.

Later Shoup would learn that a local newspaper ran a Sears Roebuck ad inviting kids to contact Santa.

Sears

The ad read, “Hey Kiddies, call me on my private phone and I will talk to you personally any time day or night.” The ad listed Santa’s direct line, but the number in the copy was off by a digit. Instead of connecting to the special line Sears set up with a Santa impersonator, kids wound up calling a secret air defense emergency number.

After several Santa-related calls, Shoup instructed his staff to give all children that called in a “current location” for Santa Claus. At this, a tradition began and continued on when the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) replaced CONAD in 1958.

Today, NORAD relies on volunteers to make the program possible. Each volunteer handles about forty telephone calls per hour, and the team typically handles more than 12,000 e-mails and more than 70,000 telephone calls from more than two hundred countries and territories.

Link for NORAD

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