Our Coca-Cola Santa Claus first appeared in advertising in 1931, and he continues to be a presence in our ads today. This Santa really helped shape the modern-day image of St. Nick. Before this, Santa appeared in a variety of images -- even as a scary elf.

Coke_santa_from_1964Coca-Cola asked artist Haddon Sundblom to illustrate Santa Claus for our advertising, specifically to encourage people to drink Coca-Cola even in the cold weather months. (That may seem odd today, but -- at the time -- many people thought of Coke as a drink only for the hot summer.)

But who was the model for our jolly, very human image of Santa?

In the beginning, Sundblom painted Santa Claus using a live model -- his friend, Lou Prentiss, a retired salesman. When Prentiss passed away, Sundblom used himself as a model, painting by looking into a mirror. After the 1930s, he used photographs instead of his own image.

One year, Santa’s large belt was shown backwards in Coke ads. (Rumor has it, it was because Sundblom was painting while looking in a mirror, and painted the belt in reverse.) People loved the Coca-Cola Santa, and sent us letters about the belt. Another time, Santa appeared without a wedding ring, leading our fans to ask what happened to Mrs. Claus!

But Santa wasn’t the only image requiring a model.

The children who sometimes appeared with Santa Claus were based on Sundblom’s neighbors in Arizona. Although the two children living next door were both girls, the artist simply changed one to a boy in his paintings!

And the 1964 Santa Claus image I’ve shown here -- the last original artwork Sundblom created for Coca-Cola -- features a dog that also had a real-life model. The dog was actually a grey poodle belonging to the neighborhood florist. Sundblom changed the fur to black to make the dog stand out.

That’s what we would call “artistic license” today!