Some people may not know this, but that Coca-Cola Santa Claus that has graced many a bottle and can during the Christmas season was drawn by Michigan artist Haddon Sumblom.
Before those images took place, Coke began using Santa in its ads since the 1920's; heck, in 1930, artist Fred Mizen painted a department-store Santa in a crowd drinking a bottle of Coke (preferably during his break). The ad featured the world's largest soda fountain, which was located in the department store Famous Barr Co. in St. Louis, Missouri. Mizen's painting was used in print ads that Christmas season, appearing in The Saturday Evening Post in December 1930.
In 1931, that all changed. The agency that came up with the famous Coke Santa image wanted someone to come up with images of the real Santa, not someone dressed as him...enter Haddon Sumblom, as noted above. His inspiration for the image came from "A Visit from St. Nicholas" by Clement C. Moore, which we better know as "The Night Before Christmas". (And even though it's often said that Santa wears a red coat because red is the color of Coca-Cola, Santa appeared in a red coat before Sundblom painted him.)
Sundblom’s Santa debuted in 1931 in Coke ads in The Saturday Evening Post and appeared regularly in that magazine, as well as in Ladies Home Journal, National Geographic, The New Yorker and others.
From 1931 to 1964, Coca-Cola advertising showed Santa delivering toys (and playing with them!), pausing to read a letter and enjoy a Coke, visiting with the children who stayed up to greet him, and raiding the refrigerators at a number of homes. The original oil paintings Sundblom created were adapted for Coca-Cola advertising in magazines and on store displays, billboards, posters, calendars and plush dolls. Many of those items today are popular collectibles (in addition to the bottles and cans that come out each holiday season).
Sundblom created his final version of Santa Claus in 1964, but for several decades to follow, Coca-Cola advertising featured images of Santa based on Sundblom’s original works. And as stated many times, they have been the inspiration for the Christmas cans and bottles.
Before I wrap this up and open up to comments, I decided to share a rare gem with you...a collection of Coke Christmas commercials from the 1950's:
1. These first 2 ads from 1958 talk about how "Holiday Time's a Good Time for the Great Taste of Coke." And indeed it is. Heck, check out the second ad, with a rare Santa Coke doll; a rare collector's item these days!