Home / General / The Origin of the NORAD Tracker

The Origin of the NORAD Tracker

Dec 22, 2016 | General


christmas “It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

We’re setting aside our usual technical topics — corporate law, taxes, estate planning, and the Angry Creamcicle — for today.  Instead, I want to take a moment and do something very out of character for me, especially if you know me personally and not just through the blog-o-sphere. I’d like to tell you a Christmas story, and to introduce you to someone you’ve never heard of and I’ve never met but is nevertheless a gentleman near and dear to my heart. Permit me to introduce you to Colonel Harry Shoup.

Back in 1955, one Colonel Harry Shoup was at the Colorado headquarters of the Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD’s predecessor. On the colonel’s desk was a red phone, a secret hotline designed to alert the command’s staff of an attack on the United States. One day, something ominous occurred: the phone rang. Presumably thinking that the country was under attack, Shoup quickly picked up. On the other end, a little boy asked to speak to Santa Claus. Since it was genuinely a child’s voice and because he was likely relieved that missiles weren’t showering the seaboard, Shoup played along as St. Nick. He learned that a misprint in a local newspaper ad provided his red phone number as the Santa hotline. The calls continued, and he assigned some military men to field them with “Ho-Ho-Hos” and promises of good cheer.

On Christmas Eve, the good Colonel came to work and saw that the airman – having a laugh at the Colonel’s expense – posted the position of Santa’s sleigh on the glass board on which they tracked the progress of airplanes coming into United States airspace.  Rather than wipe it off the Board, Colonel Shoup called into a local radio station, and reported the position of an unidentified flying object that looks like a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer.  The radio stations would call back periodically throughout the night, getting the position.

Because of that misprint, the NORAD tracker was created. But the story is about more than that.  It was a father giving the children around him one more night of innocence.  As his children would say later:

“[Our father] was an important guy, but this is the thing he’s known for…It’s probably the thing he was proudest of, too.” Terri Van Keuren and Rick Shoup, speaking of their father, Colonel Harry Shoup.

A True Legacy

Shoup, presumably a hardened military man, could’ve hung up, screamed his head off, or distanced himself from a dreaded call on the red phone. Instead, as a good father and a warm person, he played along. He ultimately wound up providing a sense of wonder and inspiration for kids all over the world.

NPR wrote a great article about the tracker in 2014. We ideally should follow Col. Shoup’s example and behave this way all year — personally and professionally.

Legacy is the proof of business done right. Those who have a legacy have inspired others to carry on. That’s exactly what Col. Shoup did, as the NORAD Tracker is now a year-round volunteer effort that fields phone calls and email and updates followers on its site and its apps. It’s a small entity fueled by making people happy. One “bah-humbug” 61 years ago would have prevented this annual movement from happening.    

The holidays can be a tough time for many, and it’s these acts of kindness that can lift people’s spirits and start new traditions. When I consider this, I get teary-eyed and ultimately thankful for everyone who has faith in us: My family, my staff, my clients and for everyone who reads about, comments on and follows us online.

A sense of wonder transcends all faiths and types of businesses.  Keep your faith alive and harness creative, kind acts and let that fuel your success in 2017.

Brinen & Associates will be open most days through the end of 2016, so contact us if you have legal needs during the holidays.  

If we don’t hear from you, take this message of good cheer to heart, and, as a British author wrote over 100 years ago:  “G-d bless us, every one!”


Forming Your Company

Financing Your Company

Operating Your Company

Growing Your Company

Defending Your Company


Transactional and Corporate Law

Mergers and Acquisitions


I formerly worked as a satellite employee from my home state of New Jersey. I ended my employment with my former employer in 2016. In 2018, I was sued by my former employer for $1.1 million in Illinois State Court. I was referred to Brinen & Associates, LLC by a friend who is a client of the firm. Brinen & Associates, LLC came highly recommended. I contacted Joshua Brinen and then had a consultation at his office with his colleague Mark White. Together, Messrs. Brinen and White explained my options...

Read More