Greetings to all and welcome new friends to the EastWing this Christmas Eve.
While setting at the EastWing Computer watching the snow turn this holiday into a White Christmas this early Christmas Eve Morning, my thoughts roamed throughout history and the different types of weather Santa has had to deal with from time to time. From the thickest of thick fog in 1939 when Rudolph The Red Nosed Rain Deer saved the day, to the massive snow storms of 1966 and 1969. The tornadoes of 2002 also added to the risk Sana endures every the sleigh takes to the cold December Air.
But do you know how Sears saved Christmas many years ago? It’s one of those things that never made the national news so not too many people know. Let me tell you the story.
It’s November 30, 1955, and the Cold War is raging on. The U.S. has stockpiled almost 2,500 atomic bombs while the Soviets has only a couple 200 or so. But that is more than an ample amount to wipe out the United States.
With the Soviet Union less than 2,000 miles away, the military has formed the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) to provide a timely defense system against intercontinental ballistic missiles fired by the Soviets over the North Pole and Canada that could strike the United States. CONAD’s command post is in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Colonel Harry W. Shoup directs its Combat Operations Center. He reports directly to four-star general Earle Partridge, who in turn reports directly to President Eisenhower.
The United States holds the advantage not only in atomic ballistic missiles, but also in department stores. Chain stores such as J.C. Penney, Montgomery Ward, Macy’s, and Sears are showcasing good ol’ American capitalism throughout the land. For almost thirty years, retired Brigadier General Robert Wood has been both president and chairman of the largest retail chain at that time, Sears, Roebuck and Co. There are more than 700 of Sears Stores across the United States as part of an economic strategy by General Wood
These stores enables Sears to provide the country with a protective blanket of goods that soon will be shipped to all corners of the nation by means of Eisenhower’s National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. The construction of the greatest road building effort in the history of the nation is just now getting underway.
And so it is on the night of November 30 that Colonel Shoup sits at his desk overseeing his minions manning the consoles inside a 15,000-square foot fortified concrete blockhouse at an Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Cheyenne Mountain Project was still many years in the future.
Atop his desk sits an ordinary black telephone with an unlisted number and an ominous red phone that connects him to General Partridge via a dedicated line encased in lead to protect it from an atomic blast. Opposite the consoles stands a massive 22’ long by 30’ high Plexiglas map of North America and the polar regions on which spotters write coordinates of ships and aircraft that are not immediately identified (kinda like the “big board” in the Dr. Strangelove movie).
On this same day, the Sears store in Colorado Springs placed an advertisement in the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph newspaper that read: Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct on my Merry Xmas telephone. Just dial ME 2-6681. Kiddies be sure and dial the correct number.
And sure enough a little feller attempting to dial Santa number reversed two digits and the Mountain States Telephone Company connected him not to Sears’s North Pole in Colorado Springs, but to the desk telephone of Colonel Shoup, inside CONAD’s fortified blockhouse.
When the boy timidly asked if the gruff-voiced Shoup was Santa at the North Pole, the brash colonel replied, “There may be a guy named Santa Claus at the North Pole, but he’s not the one I worry about coming from that direction,” and clanked down the telephone receiver.
The wayward call this evening should have been the end of the matter, except that a few days before Christmas, one of Shoup’s staff drew Santa and his sleigh on the big board. Aware of CONAD’s unpopularity with much of the taxpaying public for seemingly being in a perpetual state of war. Shoup, with General Partridge’s approval, instructed his public-relations officer, Colonel Barney Oldfield, to contact the nation’s wire services with a story: “Santa Claus Friday was assured safe passage into the United States by the Continental Air Defense Combat Operations Center which began plotting his journey from the North Pole early Friday morning. . . . CONAD will continue to track and guard Santa and his sleigh on his trip to and from the U.S. against possible attack from those who do not believe in Christmas.” The story was enthusiastically received throughout the nation and its readers fully expected CONAD to repeat the Santa story the following year, which it did.
So, that’s how the “NORAD Tracks Santa” program began, Cold War-style. Over sixty years later, NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command that replaced CONAD in 1958) still operates the Santa tracker with the help of more than 1,250 U.S. and Canadian military personnel who respond to many thousands of calls and emails each Christmas Eve. Despite criticism from some over the military being involved with Santa, the program has become one of the most successful military public relations campaigns ever, and has been copied by Google and almost every local TV station with Doppler radar, providing joy and anticipation to the “little people” of the world every Christmas Eve.
And it was all started by Sears.
As my very dear friend Paul Harvey used to say “And now you know the rest of the story.”
From The EastWing, Sears Santa & CONAD/ NORAD & Radar racking
Also from the EastWing we wish “A Most Merry Christmas To You And Those You Hold Dear”.
I Wish You Well,