24 December 1955: Norad begins tracking Santa

On this day in 1955, the North American Aerospace Defense Command began tracking Santa Claus as he sped around the world delivering presents.

It's become something of a Christmas tradition. Every Christmas Eve and in to the early hours of Christmas morning, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) tracks Santa Claus as he leaves the North Pole and speeds around the world handing out presents to the children on his Nice List.

It all started with a misprinted telephone number in a regional US newspaper. In 1955, Sears placed an ad telling children they could call Santa at any time day or night, together with Santa's telephone number. Unfortunately, the number printed was that of the Continental Air Defense Command in Colorado Springs. The base's director of operations, Colonel Harry Shoup, took the first call. Instead of telling the caller they had a wrong number, he checked on his radar and informed them of Santa's whereabouts. He instructed his staff to do the same with any other calls, and the tradition was born.

In 1958, Canada and the US formed Norad, and the programme was taken over by them. Now, the operation is staffed by some 1,200 volunteers including, since 2009, Michelle Obama. In 2013, they answered 117,371 calls. From telephone calls and newspapers to TV, the internet and social media, the programme has kept up with the times. The action moved online in 1997. Now, anyone can log on and check on Saint Nick and pinpoint his location, or spy him on any of the Santa cams around the globe. In 2008, the programme joined Twitter and now boasts over 200,000 followers, while its Facebook page is approaching two million likes.

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And the official line on the existence of Santa? "Based on historical data and more than 50 years of Norad tracking information, we believe that Santa Claus is alive and well in the hearts of children throughout the world."

Ben Judge

Ben studied modern languages at London University's Queen Mary College. After dabbling unhappily in local government finance for a while, he went to work for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh. The launch of the paper's website, scotsman.com, in the early years of the dotcom craze, saw Ben move online to manage the Business and Motors channels before becoming deputy editor with responsibility for all aspects of online production for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News websites, along with the papers' Edinburgh Festivals website.

Ben joined MoneyWeek as website editor in 2008, just as the Great Financial Crisis was brewing. He has written extensively for the website and magazine, with a particular emphasis on alternative finance and fintech, including blockchain and bitcoin. As an early adopter of bitcoin, Ben bought when the price was under $200, but went on to spend it all on foolish fripperies.