Robert L. May ’26 Writes 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer'

Dartmouth Library's Robert May collection contains a 54-page scrapbook that details the creation and marketing of Rudolph.

How did Rudolph get that red, red nose? It’s a question children ask year after year when they hear the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, written by Robert L. May ’26. And every December, the media return to the alumnus’ tale of Santa’s four-legged helper and his exemplary work ethic.

“Oh, Rudolph with your nose so bright, where did you come from?”

That’s the headline on a recent Washington Post story about the famous reindeer with the unusual nose. The answer, writes the Post, can be found in a new book, by Ronald Lankford Jr., published by University Press of New England, about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, an original manuscript of which can be found at Dartmouth Library's Rauner Special Collections Library.

“Rudolph was the creation of Robert L. May, who dreamed him up while working as an advertising copywriter for the great Chicago-based retail chain Montgomery Ward,” writes the Post. “After attending Dartmouth College—thus sharing an alma mater with other famous creators of fanciful tales for credulous youngsters, including Theodor Geisel ’25 and Fred Rogers ’50—May returned to the Midwest, where he invented the story of the lonely Laplander in 1939.”

(May later left Montgomery Ward to manage the reindeer’s career, which really took off after May’s brother-in-law Johnny Marks wrote the “Rudolph” song made famous by Gene Autry in 1949.)

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Photo courtesy of Dartmouth Library