On Christmas eve, 1955, Sears ran an ad in a local Colorado Springs paper, entreating children to call Santa at the number provided in the ad and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. It’s a sweet idea. Unfortunately, when children started calling, the number provided didn’t connect them to Santa. Instead, due to a misprint in the advertisement, it connected them to an emergency line at the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
“That red phone, boy, that’s either the old man—the four star [General Partridge]—or the Pentagon. I was all shook up.”
When the first call came in from a little girl, the colonel in charge, Harry Shoup, answered and once he figured out that it was a wrong number, and not a nuclear emergency, he played along. He told the young caller that he was, indeed, Santa and asked her if she had been good. The two spoke a bit further — about cookies and reindeer — and then Santa Shoup and the girl both hung up. A few minutes later the phone rang again. It was, still, not the Pentagon.
And so it went, all night. Shoup assigned some of his underlings to man the phones and deliver information to the children, using their advanced radar systems, about Santa’s whereabouts…and from that night on, Santa became a yearly tradition at NORAD. Not only did they start “tracking” his progress across the globe, they also installed a separate (non-emergency) line that children could call and find out how close Santa was to their homes. via Mental Floss,