If all goes well, the only time most of us hear about NORAD is this time of year when they’re tracking Santa Claus. A typo started it all.
Most of the time, a typo only causes a few laughs and a bit of embarrassment. But one typo in a telephone number forced NORAD to start tracking Santa Claus every Christmas.
We know NORAD as the North American Aerospace Defense Command. But in 1955, they called it the Continental Air Defense Command. That Christmas, a Sears ad ran in a Colorado Springs newspaper. The ad invited children to call Santa Claus — the real one, of course.
But there was a problem. The phone number listed in the ad contained the typo. Instead of calling what children assumed would be the North Pole, they reached a military officer. Col. Harry Shoup answered the red phone on his desk normally reserved for national security issues. On the other end of the phone, as his children told the story to NPR, was a child asking for Santa Claus.
Shoup, who his kids described as “straight-laced and disciplined,” was annoyed by the call. He assumed it was a prank.
But it wasn’t. He realized that when that little voice began to cry. He assured the youngster CONAD would guarantee Santa a safe journey from the North Pole.
The colonel quickly asked to speak to the child’s mother. She explained how her son happened to get the colonel’s top-secret phone number. From there, the calls continued as children tried to reach their yuletide hero. Shoup assigned airmen to answer the calls while acting the part of Santa Claus.
The unlikely tradition began. Today, the NORAD Tracks Santa Web Site receives nearly 15 million unique visitors from more than 200 countries and territories around the world, its website states. On top of that, volunteers take more than 130,000 calls to their hotline from children around the globe.
We should feel thankful for this particular typo. And thank goodness a fast-thinking colonel at NORAD had the Christmas spirit that night. His kindness helped make Christmas special for generations now!