For God, Country, and Coca-Cola by Mark Pendergrast, 1999, Excerpts
Coca-Cola bottlers had always known that they had to snare the next generation of drinkers early, regardless of the taboo on direct advertising to those below twelve. One approach directed at children wound up reshaping American culture through the art of Haddon Sundblom. A hard-drinking Swede whose work was brilliant but usually late, “Sunny” made himself indispensable, regardless of his habits, by creating the classic Coca-Cola Santa Claus in 1931. Sundblom’s Santa was the perfect Coca-Cola man – bigger than life, bright red, eternally jolly, and caught in whimsical situations involving a well-known soft drink as his reward for a hard night’s work of toy delivery. Every Christmas, Sundblom delivered another eagerly awaited Coca-Cola Santa ad. When his first model, a retired Coca-Cola salesman, died, Sundblom used himself. While Coca-Cola has had a subtle, pervasive influence on our culture, it has directly shaped the way we think of Santa. Prior to the Sundblom illustrations, the Christmas saint had been variously illustrated wearing blue, yellow, green, and red. In European art, he was usually tall and gaunt, whereas Clement Moore had depicted him as an elf in “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” After the soft drink ads, Santa would forever more be a huge, fat, relentlessly happy man with broad belt and black hip boots – and he would wear Coca-Cola red.