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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Monday, December 21, 2009
Photos with Santa
Posted by Diane

8d23937u santa.jpg

A simple question from my editor, the Genealogy Insider Diane Haddad, has me scrambling for the answer. She asked, "What's the history of having your picture taken with Santa?" Whoa! These iconic kid pictures are in a lot of family albums, and judging from the lines at mall Santas, having a photo with this Christmas symbol remains popular. 

But when did the first kid have a picture taken with Santa? It's a good question.

Out on a gift-buying journey I found a cute little book, A Century of Christmas Memories, 1900-1999 by the editors of the Peter Pauper Press (Peter Pauper Press). In it is a picture of baseball great Babe Ruth playing Santa at a benefit in December 1947. 

The photo featured above was taken in 1942 at Macy's Department Store in New York, and now is in the collection of the Library of Congress.  Accompanying information mentions there were two Santas, concealed from one another, so that the children wouldn't be upset. Each child got to talk with Santa and received a piece of candy.

The tradition must be older than that. I turned to Google for help. A quick search turned up a site that mentioned that the first department store Santa was a R.H. Macy's in New York in 1870, but it didn't mention photographs.

On the History Channel website, there's a history of many things relating to Christmas—including a short article on mall Santas. According to that piece, in 1841, a Philadelphia store featured a life-size Santa model.

I thought a newspaper search might help. I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, but I did locate an obituary for Charles W. Howard, who was considered the "Nation's No. 1 Santa Claus." According to the obituary in the May 2, 1966, New York Times, Howard began his career as Santa when just a child, and then in 1937, he opened a school for Santas. He taught "psychology, costuming, makeup, whisker grooming, voice-modulation and ho-ho-ho-ing."

Howard said "You've got to know the character you're playing. It's so real to me sometimes that I can feel the reindeer breathing on my cheek."

While I don't have a definitive answer yet on Diane's question, I'm still working on it. I have some leads, but need to contact some folks in the know. They haven't returned my calls in this busy season....they must be out shopping.

Happy Holidays!!

children | Photo fun
Monday, December 21, 2009 5:14:18 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [3]
Monday, December 21, 2009 10:36:18 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Wishing you,your family and friends a very Merry Christmas and Holiday. Remember to get your photo taken with Santa this year.
D March
Monday, December 28, 2009 5:19:35 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I became very curious about the answer to this question. I didn't find the first photo, but I did find the first department store Santa, James Edgar from Edgar's Department Store in Brockton, MA in 1890.
Friday, January 01, 2010 5:37:28 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Using Google Books and Newspaper Archives... I found these:

1914 - 6 photos for 50 cents with Santa and his pony at Kann Sons & Co. in Washington DC.

1919 - 4 photos for 50 cents with Santa and the fairies in Fairyland at JHC Petersen's Sons Co. in Davenport, IA. (The ad even has a cool photo of a kid on Santa's lap)

1919 - Free photos on Santa's lap at CJ Frey's store in Hanover, PA.

Also.. I found an interesting article in a 1947 issue of "Camera: A Practical Magazine for Photographers" instructing people how they can make money taking photos of kids on Santa's lap and implies that "last winter the idea blossomed in city department stores and this year will find it spreading..."

Don Bowman
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