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Sesquicentennial Minute: The famous misprint that led to NORAD’s Santa Claus tracking tradition

Sears-Ad-Gazette-1955-cover
Photo: Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum via Gazette archives

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- For the last half-century, countless children across the world track Santa each Christmas Eve with the help of NORAD, located in Colorado Springs. But what does the North American Aerospace Defense Command have to do with Kris Kringle? Families can thank the most famous Christmas misprint of all time.

It all started in 1955. That’s the year Sears published an ad in The Gazette with a message from Santa offering his personal number for kiddos to call him direct. The only problem? The number was a typo.

"One day a little girl picked up the phone, dialed the number, and accidentally called NorthCom [CONAD], which would later become NORAD," said Leah Witherow, curator of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

"Colonel [Harry] Shoup answered the phone and what he heard on the other end of the line was a little girl asking, 'are you really Santa Claus?' And this surprised the colonel," said Witherow.

It’s a good thing Col. Shoup had Christmas spirit. Not wanting to let the little girl down, he played along and encouraged everyone at Continental Air Defense Command that evening to take Santa’s calls on his behalf.

"So the tradition continued and today NORAD tracks Santa every single year," said Witherow.

In 2021 there are several ways to track Kris Kringle and his reindeer:

Sesquicentennial Minute is a summer series produced by KRDO's Josh Helmuth in celebration of Colorado Springs' 150th birthday, commemorated on July 31, 2021.

Josh Helmuth

Josh is an anchor for Good Morning Colorado. Learn more about Josh here.

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