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The Cold War Origins of NORAD’s Santa Tracker

by Todd DePastino

This Christmas Eve, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) will track Santa Claus’s progress around the globe, as it has since 1955. That was the year Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup received a misdirected phone call from a child looking for Santa.

It began with a Sears Roebuck ad in a Colorado Springs newspaper. “Hey, Kiddies!” it read. “Call me direct on my Merry Xmas telephone.” But the number was one digit off. Instead of reaching Santa, callers got Colonel Shoup, who manned the emergency hotline at the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD, forerunner of NORAD) Operations Center in Colorado Springs.

When Shoup picked up the red phone, he heard a little voice on the other end.

“Is this Santa Claus?”

Shoup thought it was one of his Airmen playing a prank. He growled at the caller to cut the nonsense. The little voice started sobbing.

Shoup immediately realized his mistake. “Ho, ho, ho!” he bellowed into the receiver. “Have you been a good little boy?”

After a conversation with the boy’s mother, Shoup traced the phone call to the Sears ad. He knew his Operations Center would be receiving calls all night.

Instead of disconnecting the line or ignoring the calls, Shoup assigned Airmen to answer the phone . . .  as Santa. The NORAD Santa hotline has been ringing ever since.

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