After Hours

Geek Trivia: What advertising mishap forced the U.S. military to begin 'tracking' Santa Claus in 1955?

What mishandled advertising campaign led to NORAD providing flight-tracking data on Santa Claus for the last 50 years?

On Dec. 24, 1955, the Sears department store in Colorado Springs, CO ran a newspaper promotion inviting kids to call Santa on a special telephone line. Unfortunately, the ad misprinted the number, and the typo — by some Christmas miracle — actually matched the direct line for the CONAD operations center.

The late Col. Harry Shoup was the command officer on duty for Christmas Eve, 1955, and when his switchboard first informed him that a child was calling asking to speak to Santa, he ordered his operator to respond with Santa's current known location. As each subsequent typo-invited call came in, the operators continued to offer up Santa's updated whereabouts. This act of Christmas kindness earned Shoup the nickname of "the Santa Colonel," and earned CONAD a reputation as the place to learn Santa's in-flight position on Christmas Eve.

The following year, CONAD maintained the tradition of disclosing Santa's position and flight path to anyone who called. The Santa-tracking service continued when CONAD became NORAD in 1958. Today, the United States and Canadian air command staffs recruit literally thousands of volunteers (occasionally including celebrities) to answer requests for Santa's Christmas Eve coordinates. If all the aforementioned online methods of tracking Santa Claus aren't to your liking, you can still use the phone; just call 1-800-HI-NORAD. But be sure you enter the number correctly. Otherwise, you may inadvertently start a tradition where the Centers for Disease Control undead preparedness staff publicly track the whereabouts of the Chanukah Zombie.

That not just some cleverly coordinated call center creativity, it's a superbly stocking-stuffing sample of seasonal Geek Trivia.

The quibble of the week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best quibble from our assembled masses and discuss it in a future edition of Geek Trivia.

This week's quibble is suspended in favor of good cheer during the holiday season. If you need some further reading to tide you over, I recommend these similarly solstice-centered slices of Geek Trivia:

We'll return you to your regularly scheduled quibble next year.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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