Madison Children's Museum Blog

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Play, Back in the Day: The Rudolph Story

By Corinne Burgermeister
Communications Specialist 

Madison Children's Museum Montgomery Ward Rudolph

Winter window display at Madison Children’s Museum

Most of us are familiar with the tale of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but how many of you know how his story and connection to Madison Children’s Museum came to be?

In 1939 Chicago-based department store, Montgomery Ward introduced us to Rudolph, the most famous reindeer of all.

Each holiday season, Montgomery Ward distributed children’s coloring books to shoppers, but in 1939, they did something different. Copywriter Robert L. May was enlisted to develop an original story—the tale of a bright-nosed reindeer.

Over two million copies of May’s story were distributed in the first year alone, and it quickly became a holiday favorite for generations of kids.

In Madison, during that same time period (1929 – 1942), our building at 100 N. Hamilton housed a Montgomery Ward store, where we imagine similar holiday traditions took place.

As an homage to our building’s past, the “Play, Back in the Day” exhibit takes a look at all things vintage and playful, featuring a “new” toy collection each month.

December’s collection is all about books.

Madison Children's Museum Rudolph the Red Nosed ReindeerThrough mid-January, visitors can lounge in vintage chairs and cozy up with a copy of Rudolph, or click through an old-fashioned Viewmaster featuring a Rudolph card.

The exhibit also includes a vintage radio playing thirties jazz and classic works like Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Little House on the Prairie.

By learning about stories like Rudolph and playing with toys from the past, we hope to create an environment where kids and adults can have a shared experience—allowing them to see play as something universal.

We are still seeking toy donations! 
Each month “Play, Back in the Day” will highlight a “new” vintage item, but we need your help! Do you have some awesome vintage toys? Know someone who’d like to loan us their collection? Grandparents, community members and friends are encouraged to share their toy collections and stories with Madison Children’s Museum. Contact Nadia Niggli to learn how to get involved.

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