1939 was a banner year for reindeer. Though they'd been mentioned in regard to the exploits of Santa Claus--and everyone was pretty well aware of their relevance to the whole Christmas Eve globe-trotting experience, it wasn't until 1939 that the world really began to sit up and take notice of the flying four-legged friends who keep the cogs of Christmas oiled and operative.
That's the year Montgomery Ward distributed 2,400,000 promo copies of a tale by Robert L. May--a tale featuring a flying spotted reindeer with a crimson, glowing nose. Over two million children became familiar with the story of Rudolph's sad formative years, when all the teasing about being different nearly alienated him from the rest of the reindeer community for good. Had it not been for Santa's forward thinking, the kids discovered, Rudolph never would've been able to light the night sky, effectively navigating the corresponding toys to the corresponding rooftops.
It would be another decade, though, before Rudolph's acclaim went from national to global. In 1949, Gene Autry sang "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," as written by composer Johnny Marks, and the little deer that could immediately became the stuff of folklore.