How the Cold War led to the Santa Tracker

Santa Claus gets all the ink at this time of year, but Harry Shoup should get his due.

Shoup, an Air Force colonel, was at the other end of a hotline from the Pentagon which was intended to provide the first notice that the United States was about to be attacked with nuclear weapons. What would happen next if it rang was decidedly unChristmaslike, of course.

It rang one day in 1955, Shoup’s children say in this week’s Story Corps episode. Harry picked up the phone. It was a kid.

“And dad realized that it wasn’t a joke,” her sister says. “So he talked to him, ho-ho-ho’ed and asked if he had been a good boy and, ‘May I talk to your mother?’ And the mother got on and said, ‘You haven’t seen the paper yet? There’s a phone number to call Santa. It’s in the Sears ad.’ Dad looked it up, and there it was, his red phone number. And they had children calling one after another, so he put a couple of airmen on the phones to act like Santa Claus.”

And that’s how NORAD’s Santa Tracker started.

  1. Listen Story Corps: NORAD’s Santa Tracker Began With A Typo And A Good Sport

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  • Gary F

    Not sure if it’s available on archive, but Science Friday on NPR many years ago spent a whole day breaking down the numbers on Santa. How fast would he would have to go to see EVERY kid in the world in one day. How many calories burned, how man pit stops, would he need a change of reindeer, stopping to eat for both him and the reindeer, how much would the sled weigh at the start of the journey, how much faster he would go at the end with a lighter sleigh but exhausted reindeer. It made for a great show.