The True Story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

The Story of Rudolph

While there are slightly different variations on this true story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, most of this story is accurate.  More importantly, it is heartwarming and goes well beyond the making of the story – proof that it is far better to give than to receive.  Merry Christmas!


A guy named Bob May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night. His 4-year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap quietly sobbing.

Bobs wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer. Little Barbara couldn’t understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her dad’s eyes and asked, “Why isn’t Mommy just like everybody else’s Mommy?”

Bob’s jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears. Her question brought waves of grief, but also of anger. It had been the story of Bob’s life. Life always had to be different for Bob. Small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports. He was often called names he’d rather not remember. From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in.

Bob did complete college, married his loving wife and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression.

Then he was blessed with his little girl. But it was all short-lived. Evelyn’s bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings and now Bob and his daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums.

Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938. Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn’t even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn’t buy a gift, he was determined to make one – a storybook! Bob had created an animal character in his own mind and told the animal’s story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope.

Again and again Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling. Who was the character? What was the story all about? The story Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form. The character he created was a misfit outcast like he was. The name of the character? A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose.

Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day. But the story doesn’t end there. The general manager of Montgomery Ward caught wind of the little storybook and offered Bob May a nominal fee to purchase the rights to print the book. Wards went on to print, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and distribute it to children visiting Santa Claus in their stores. By 1946 Wards had printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph. That same year, a major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Wards to print an updated version of the book. In an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the CEO of Wards returned all rights back to Bob May. The book became a best seller. Many toy and marketing deals followed and Bob May, now remarried with a growing family, became wealthy from the story he created to comfort his grieving daughter.

But the story doesn’t end there either. Bob’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to Rudolph. Though the song was turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore , it was recorded by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was released in 1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of “White Christmas.” The gift of love that Bob May created for his daughter so long ago kept on returning back to bless him again and again. And Bob May learned the lesson, just like his dear friend Rudolph, that being different isn’t so bad. In fact, being different can be a blessing.  The best is yet to come…


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in books, children's books, Death and dying, Diversity, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Giving, Inspiration, Kindness, Love, Singing, storytelling and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

66 Responses to The True Story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, GP. Love the photo. Merry Christmas to you. BTW, the last issue of Military Officer magazine features Norman Rockwell and his paintings during WWII. Some were new to me! I’ll be writing a blogpost soon. I loved the post you did on Rockwell.

  1. Ritu says:

    Well, I never knew the origins. Thank you for that, Jennie. 🥰

  2. quiall says:

    Beautiful story. It shows that adversity does not have to be a hindrance. We are ALL special.

  3. srbottch says:

    Thank you, Jennie. I shared with my family. Have a very Merry Christmas!

  4. beth says:

    I love this, Jennie. happy Christmas to you )

  5. Thanks for sharing! I hadn’t heard this before. What a lovely story ❤

  6. The Hook says:

    What a heartwarming and inspirational story.
    Thank you and have a Merry Christmas, Jennie.

  7. Love this story, Jennie. Thanks for sharing. Merry Christmas

  8. magarisa says:

    A heartwarming story. Merry Christmas, Jennie!

  9. Such a beautiful story, Jennie! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  10. joylennick says:

    It does us all good to hear such a great story. We never know quite what’s around the corner or down a dark path. Hope and imagination can work wonders.Thanks Jennie. A Merry Christmas and a healthy, fruitful New year. xx

    • Jennie says:

      Well said, Joy. We never know, do we? I am a believer in hope and imagination. I think this story is similar to the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. And, this story is real. Wow! A Merry Christmas to you, and a New Year of health and happiness. 🙂

  11. I love Rudolph, and have quite a collection of memorabilia — including a vintage copy of Robert L. May’s book. This story speaks to so many people on so many levels, about the importance of kindness and acceptance of those who may not be just like us. Thank you, Jennie! Happiest of holidays to you.

    • Jennie says:

      You have a vintage copy of May’s book? That is wonderful! It really speaks of all that is truly important. And to think that he wrote it when things were at their worst for him. He is a role model for kindness and giving. Merry Christmas to you, Sharon. 🎄

  12. Pingback: The True Story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer — A Teacher’s Reflections – Sharon E. Cathcart

  13. Dan Antion says:

    That’s a wonderful bit of history, Jennie. Thanks for sharing.

  14. beetleypete says:

    Thanks very much for filling in the blanks about that famous story, Jennie. Who knew?
    Not me, that’s for sure. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

  15. I had no idea of the story behind “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”! Thank you so much for sharing it. I will now listen to it with even greater appreciation.

  16. What a marvelous story, Jennie. Merry Christmas to you and yours. Hugs!

  17. carhicks says:

    What an awesome story Jennie. Thanks for sharing it. Merry Christmas to you and yours. 🦌🎄🎄🎅

  18. Thank you so much for sharing the background to this story, Jennie! I loved reading this on Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas.

  19. This is so beautiful, Jennie… With tears in my eyes and hope in my heart, I thank you for sharing. Merry Christmas, my friend! ❤

  20. Darlene says:

    What a wonderful story, Jennie. My dad used to read the nook to me. (It came out the year I was born) We would often sing the song together. Gene Autrey was one of my dad’s favorite singers. The story behind the story is just as special as the book and the song. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jennie says:

      You had a wonderful Christmas tradition, Darlene. Knowing the backstory must make those memories even better. I’m so glad! I remember listening to Gene Autrey sing- that was a childhood treat.

  21. Thank you for the very amazing story, Jennie! Best wishes, Michael

  22. Annika Perry says:

    Wow! Jennie, what a fantastic story behind the story! My heart is aglow with the love and light of this factual tale.

    Hope you had a wonderful Christmas and wishing you a magical New Year! xx

  23. abbiosbiston says:

    This is truly a lovely story.

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