It was back in 1955 when a little Colorado Springs girl called the wrong number (NORAD) wanting to know when Santa Claus would come to her house. NORAD has tracked Santa every year since then.
This Christmas Eve, CBS News reprinted their 2009 tale of NORAD's origins. An excerpt below:
Is this Santa Claus?
All joking aside, NORAD has been taking its Santa tracking project seriously for decades. But it actually began in 1955 with a wrong number.
One morning that December, U.S. Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, the director of operations at CONAD, the Continental Air Defense Command--NORAD's predecessor--got a phone call at his Colorado Springs, Colo., office (see video below). This was no laughing matter. The call had come in on one of the top secret lines inside CONAD that only rang in the case of a crisis.
Grabbing the phone, Shoup must have expected the worst. Instead, a tiny voice asked, "Is this Santa Claus?"
"Dad's pretty annoyed," said Terri Van Keuren, Shoup's daughter, recalling the legend of that day in 1955. "He barks into the phone," demanding to know who's calling.
"The little voice is now crying," Van Keuren continued. "'Is this one of Santa's elves, then?'"
The Santa questions were only beginning. That day, the local newspaper had run a Sears Roebuck ad with a big picture of St. Nick and text that urged, "Hey, Kiddies! Call me direct...Call me on my private phone and I will talk to you personally any time day or night."
But the phone number in the ad was off by a digit. Instead of connecting with Santa, callers were dialing in on the line that would ring if the Russians were attacking.
Before long, the phone was ringing off the hook, and softening up, Shoup grabbed a nearby airman and told him to answer the calls and, Van Keuren said, "'just pretend you're Santa.'"
Indeed, rather than having the newspaper pull the Sears ad, Shoup decided to offer the countless kids calling in something useful: information about Santa's progress from the North Pole. To quote the official NORAD Santa site, "a tradition was born."
From that point on, first CONAD and then, in 1958, when NORAD was formed, Shoup's organization offered annual Santa tracking as a service to the global community. A phone number was publicized and anyone was invited to call up, especially on December 24, and find out where Santa was. Manning those phones over the years have been countless numbers of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps personnel and their families, and for many people, turning to NORAD to find out where Santa is became something to look forward to each year.
Hundreds of volunteers are manning the phones inside NORAD"s Track Santa Headquarters this Christmas Eve. Kids from around the world are asking lots of questions.
"We talk about the magic of Santa," said Michelle Strickland. This was her fourth year tracking Santa. "We talk about how fast he can travel and what time we all have to be to bed and if we've been naughty or nice.'
Admiral Sandy Winnefeld who just recently took command of NORAD headed up the tracking Santa operation for the first time. "This is a terrific experience," said Admiral Winnefeld. "What a wonderful thing for NORAD to do for all the boys and girls across the world."
Santa's helpers will be on the phone and answering emails all day. If you want to know when the big guy will be on your roof call 1-877 HI NORAD or email Track Santa headquarters at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to track Santa on your own, click on the link below.