According to History.com, seeking a cheaper holiday giveaway than the children’s coloring books they had purchased and distributed in years past, Montgomery Ward asked its own marketing department to create a new and original Christmas storybook from scratch. The task fell to department store copywriter Robert L. May.
The story that May wrote was given away to more than two million Montgomery Ward customers in 1939. It was not until May’s brother-in-law adapted the story into song almost 10 years later, however, that “Rudolph” truly entered the national consciousness.
May’s brother-in-law was a professional songwriter named Johnny Marks, best known for works like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (1958) and “A Holly Jolly Christmas” (1962) in addition to “Rudolph.”In 1949, Marks’ song found its way to radio legend Gene Autry, the original Singing Cowboy, whose recording of “Rudolph” sold more than two million units in its first year alone on its way to becoming the second-most successful Christmas record in history (after “White Christmas”).