Coca-Cola Santa Claus has been a perennial presence during the Christmas holiday in magazines, store displays, billboards, posters, calendars and even plush dolls for the Coca Cola company based in Atlanta, Georgia.
Coca-Cola was not the first to depict the image of Santa Claus. Civil War cartoonist Thomas Nast drew Santa Claus for Harper’s Weekly in 1862, as a small elflike figure. And White Rock beverage introduced the now classic red and white Santa in advertisements selling mineral water in 1915 and later ginger ale ads in 1923.
The Coca-Cola Company began its Christmas advertising in the 1920s in magazines like the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies Home Journal and National Geographic.
In 1930, Santa Claus appeared in the December issue the Saturday Evening Post. Drawn by artist Fred Mizen, it featured a department store Santa pausing to refresh himself with a Coke inside Famous Barr Co. department store in St. Louis, Missouri.
In 1931, the D’Arcy Advertising Agency commissioned Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom to envision a new look for the Coca-Cola Santa. He used Clement Clark Moore’s 1822 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” as inspiration. In the poem, St Nick is described as being chubby plump jolly old elf with a “tiny round belly” that “shook when he laughed liker a bowlful of jelly.”
Sundblom painted his Santa Claus with the help of a live model, Lou Prentiss, a retired salesman and friend of the artist. When Prentiss passed away, the artist used himself as a model, painting while looking into a mirror.
When in need of other models for his paintings, Sundblom recruited children in the neighborhood. He chose two local girls for one painting, but at the last-minute decided to make one of them a boy. When he needed a dog for a 1964 Christmas painting, Sundblom borrowed a gray poodle belonging to the neighborhood florist. He changed the color of the dog from gray to black for better contrast, however.
Besides being a shill for selling Coca-Cola products, the Santa ads helped sell children’s toys that were trending in the marketplace such as an electric train or helicopter.
During the World War II days, Santa teamed up with a character called Sprite Boy who helped Santa support the war effort and sell war bonds. By the end of the decade, however, the public lost interest in Sprite Boy and he soon faded from sight.
Sundblom continued to create Coca-Cola holiday ads featuring Santa until 1964. Sundblom had also created the advertising images of Aunt Jemima and the Quaker Oats man. Haddon Sundblom passed away in 1976.
From 1931 until 1964, Haddon Sundblom created 42 Santa paintings. Many of the original paintings can be seen on display at World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Ga. In recent years, a family of animated North Pole polar bears have become the focus of Coca-Cola seasonal advertisements.
The Coca-Cola Company
P.O. Box 1734
1 Coca-cola Plaza NW
Atlanta, GA 30301