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If You're Using NORAD to Track Santa Claus, You Can Thank a Newspaper Typo From 1955

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"Be sure and dial the correct number."

America's surveillance prowess was directed toward more festive purposes on Wednesday, as the North American Aerospace Defense Command began its annual tracking of Santa Claus.

NORAD, a military radar program run by the U.S. and Canada, is normally used to keep an eye on the sky for any attack that might be made via aircraft, missiles or space vehicles.

Screen Shot 2014-12-24 at 8.43.03 AM Stand down — it's just Santa Claus. (Image source: NORAD)

But since the late 1950s, NORAD has also helped keep parents and children informed about Santa's location as he delivers presents to kids around the world. As of Wednesday morning, Santa was making the rounds in New Zealand, Australia, Japan and other east Asian nations — track his latest whereabouts here.

Like the Slinky, chocolate chip cookies, and other great things invented by accident, NORAD's decision to track Santa was not planned. Instead, the practice developed in 1955, when an advertisement mistakenly printed a number to call Santa that happened to be the number for a precursor to NORAD — the Continental Air Defense Command, or CONAD.

"Hey, Kiddies!" the ad read. "Call me direct and be sure and dial the correct number."

But instead of reaching Santa, the number was a secret CONAD phone number, and Col. Harry Shoup was on the other end of the line. Instead of hanging up on the kids as they called, he gave them updates on the location of Santa Claus.

NORAD, formed in 1958, has carried on that tradition ever since.

"Today, through satellite systems, high-powered radars and jet fighters, NORAD tracks Santa Claus as he makes his Yuletide journey around the world," NORAD said.

NORAD says it's staffed with thousands of volunteers who man telephones and computers to answer calls — and now emails — from kids and parents around the world.

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