Did Coca Cola really invent modern Santa?

The company gave him a sidekick 'Sprite Boy' but he never caught on...

Did Coca Cola really invent modern Santa?

Coca Cola

The figure of St Nicolas and the Dutch Sinterklaas have been associated with Christmas for hundreds of years - but the modern incarnation of Santa Claus is a newer creation.

It's often claimed that Coca Cola invented the US version of the character.

Coca Cola's 1931 Santa

He was first used by its illustrator Haddon Sundblom in 1931 for the company's Christmas campaign.

But the idea that the company gave the modern character his bright red garb is a myth.

The bones of this version of Santa already existed.

Nast's Santa

Between 1863 and 1886 Thomas Nast's engravings in Harper's Bazaar stated to give a body to Mr Claus - but this was more of an impish portrayal.

Meanwhile, this issue of The Saturday Evening Post shows a leaner red Santa in 1912.

When Haddon Sundblom sat down to create Coca Cola's Santa, red was already the most popular colour associated with Santa - but he did (literally) flesh-out the character and popularised the jolly round version of Santa that we know today.

In the beginning, Sundblom painted the image of Santa using a live model - a retired salesman he knew named Lou Prentiss.

When Prentiss passed away, Sundblom used himself as a model, painting while looking into a mirror.

The company later gave him a sidekick in the 1940's - 'Sprite Boy' (he proved to have less staying power).

 

The company published Sundblom's final festive offering in 1964 - but have continued to base their Christmas campaigns around his paintings.

Coke's 1964 Santa

In 1972 he had one last Christmas commission - painting a cover for Playboy featuring a woman dressed as Santa disrobing.

He passed away four years later.

Sundblom's Playboy cover

Some of his original Santa paintings have been hung in the Louve.

Coke's Santa has brought to life in 2001 in this TV spot animated by Academy Award-winning animator Alexandre Petrov.

His Santa still features in the company's Christmas advertising.