From the Archives: The Los Angeles Times 'Santa Claus Expeditions'

In the 1920s and '30s, The Times sponsored several Santa Claus arrival promotions. The 1938 and 1939 "Santa Claus Expeditions" were classics. Each year, The Times “dispatched” a correspondent and photographer to travel on a United Airlines aircraft to the North Pole.

The twist — each year Santa had to be “convinced” to return to Los Angeles and open up the holiday season. Updates on the Santa Expeditions were reported daily in The Times for about a week before Thanksgiving. Both years, Santa was persuaded to come to Los Angeles.

On Thanksgiving Eve, Nov. 23, 1938, the Los Angeles Times reported:

ABOARD A SOUTHBOUND UNITED AIR LINES MAINLINER, Nov. 22. (Exclusive) (By short-wave radio) – Santa Claus is going to be in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving and Friday's opening of the Christmas season!

At this very minute St. Nick himself is here in the plane with us, chuckling as he looks out over the frozen route he usually traverses in his reindeer-drawn sleigh. …

But persuading him to accompany us was not an easy task, I'll tell you! (Even though I do think he wanted to make the trip from the very first.) ...

Santa's 1938 arrival was documented with the above photo and a story published in the Nov. 25 Times.

This photo appeared in the Nov. 20, 1938, Los Angeles Times announcing the “flight” to the North Pole to meet Santa. On the left are unidentified Times reporter and photographer. On stairway from United Airlines are navigator Bill Sievert, co-pilot Dusty Trembly and pilot Capt. John Roberts.

But there were just a few witnesses from the media to Santa’s 1938 arrival in Los Angeles.

Not so the next year.

During the 1939 Santa Claus Expedition, the Los Angels Times announced Santa's Thanksgiving Day arrival time at Union Air Terminal — now Hollywood Burbank Airport. Everyone was invited.

The Times reported in the Friday, Nov. 24, 1939, edition:

Santa Claus Welcomed

Children at Air Terminal Cheer St. Nick and Wife as Yule Season Opens

From frozen Igloo-Foo on the Fjord to the sunny Southland came Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus yesterday to open the Christmas season officially here.

A cheer from nearly 4,000 children and parents greeted the jolly pair as they swept into Union Air Terminal on the Times' Special United Air Lines Mainliner.

It was Mrs. Claus' first appearance south of the famed Igloo-Foo on the Fjord, southernmost outpost of Santa's Arctic domain.

(Mr. and Mrs. Claus traveled by streamlined sleigh from their Crystal Ice Palace at the North Pole to meet the plane at Igloo-Foo, where Mrs. Claus used the candied icicle crop to make North Pole taffy.)

Children who greeted Santa were given samples of the holiday candy.

Principal feature of the arrival was Mrs. Claus' surprise at things which seem very ordinary to Southern California residents.

"Where are the igloos?" was one of her questions.

She also expressed amazement at the scarcity of icebergs at the airport.

This post was originally published on Dec. 21, 2012.

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