Friday, September 15, 2017

Rudolph as the New Red Meat

A photograph of a reindeer digging in the snow to reach food beneath its surface
In the early 20th century, there was great concern in the United States over the rise in beef consumption which was outstripping supplies. In Alaska, a couple of brothers had already come up with a possible solution. They founded an Alaskan meatpacking company in 1914 that focused on reindeer meat as an alternative to beef. The Lomen Reindeer Corporation, founded by Carl and Alfred Lomen, began with an initial purchase of 1,200 reindeer from a Laplander immigrant to Alaska. They then proceeded to dominate the export of reindeer meat from Alaska to the Lower 48, shutting down competition and selling over six million pounds of reindeer meat by the end of the 1920s.

Part of the Lomen brothers' success hinged upon their aggressive and widespread marketing partnership with Macy's. In the winter of 1926, they supplied live reindeer to pull Santa's sleigh for the various Christmas spectacles associated with the department store chain all over the country. Although reindeer had been connected to Santa for a long time before this marketing stunt, some would argue that this forever united the two in the minds of America's children.

An advertisement from Fisher's Flouring Mills Company that has the headline "Is It Hard to Imagine 160,000 Reindeer?" and has a drawing of a reindeer herd, an Inuit herder, a dog-sled team, and a bag of flour.One advertisement that we found recently in our collection is a great reflection of the impact that the Lomens had on both the reindeer industry and Santa Claus. An undated newspaper ad for Fisher's Flouring Mills Company tells the history of the Lomen brothers and their vision. The ad copy states that reindeer herding will make the "simple Eskimo" as "wealthy as his prairie cousin, the Indian oil baron of Oklahoma," and claims that native women have integrated Fisher's flour into their everyday cooking routine. Given that the "prairie cousins" didn't really fare as well as this advertisement suggests, we can't help but wonder if, much like Santa Claus, the incredible amount of money that reindeer herds were supposed to provide for the Inuit turned out to be an imaginary figure as well.

To see this advertisement, and learn more about reindeer as food, come to Rauner and explore the papers of Vilhjalmur Stefansson (MSS-98), box 15. To see more photographs of Arctic life, ask for the papers of Clarence L. Andrews (MSS-4).


  1. And of course there's Robert L. May, Class of 1926, who created Rudolph and whose papers, etc., are at Rauner. For instance:

  2. Thanks for following our blog and for pointing this out! We didn't want to overshadow the Lomen Brothers' scheme, but we do have materials on both actual and fictional reindeer here at Rauner.

    There's more on both the story of Rudolph and Robert May's papers on our blog:

    P.S. We resisted the urge to title this blog "Rudolph: He's What's for Dinner."