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November 1938: The Times 'Santa Claus Expedition' before takeoff for the North Pole. On the left are The Times' correspondent and photographer – both unidentified. The United Airlines crew, starting from bottom of ramp, are navigator Bill Sievert, co-pilot Dusty Trembly, and pilot Capt. John Roberts. This photo was published in the Nov. 20, 1938, L.A. Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

November 1938: Santa Claus discusses Christmas plans with unidentified Times North Pole correspondent. This photo was published in the Nov. 22, 1938, L.A. Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

November 1938: Capt. Johnny Roberts, United Air Lines pilot, talks with Santa while enroute to Los Angeles. This photo was published in the Nov. 24, 1938, L.A. Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

November 1938: Santa Claus arrives in Los Angeles from the North Pole after a flight on United Airlines. Behind Santa is the crew of the United Airlines Mainliner navigator Bill Sievert, co-pilot Diesty Trembly and pilot Capt. Johnny Roberts. This photo was published in the Nov. 25, 1938, L.A. Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

November 1939: Santa Claus consults with United Airlines pilot Capt. John Crane about his flight from the North Pole to Los Angeles. This photo was published in the Nov. 19, 1939, L.A. Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Los Angeles Times

Nov. 23, 1939: A crowd of 4,000 greets Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and their United Air Lines aircraft at the Union Air Terminal. This photo was published in the Nov. 24, 1939, L.A. Times. This panorama was made from three different prints.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Paul Calvert / Los Angeles Times

Nov. 23, 1939: Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus wave to kids upon arrival at Union Air Terminal after their flight from the North Pole. This photo was published in the Nov. 24, 1939, L.A. Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Paul Calvert / Los Angeles Times

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The Times ‘Santa Claus Expeditions’

In the 1920s and ’30s, the Times sponsored several Santa arrival promotions. The 1938 and 1939 “Santa Claus Expeditions” were classics. Each year the Times ‘dispatched’ a correspondent and photographer to travel on a United Airlines aircraft to the North Pole.

The only hitch – each year Santa had to be ‘convinced’ to return to Los Angeles and open up the holiday season. ‘News’ of the Santa Expeditions was reported daily in The Times for about a week before Thanksgiving. Both years, Santa was ‘convinced’ to come to Los Angeles.

The Wednesday morning. Nov. 23, 1938 Times story:

ABOARD A SOUTHBOUND UNITED AIR LINES MAINLINER, Nov. 22. (Exclusive) (By short-wave radio) – Santa Claus is going to be in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving and Friday’s opening of the Christmas season!

At this very minute St. Nick himself is here in the plane with us, chuckling as he looks out over the frozen route he usually traverses in his reindeer-drawn sleigh…..

But persuading him to accompany us was not an easy task, I’ll tell you! (Even though I do think he wanted to make the trip from the very first.)

Santa’s 1938 arrival was ‘documented’ with a photo – in above gallery – and story published in the Friday, Nov. 25, 1938, Los Angeles Times. But there seemed to be few witnesses to the event.

Not so the next year.

During the 1939 Santa Claus Expedition, the Times announced Santa’s Thanksgiving day arrival time at Union Air Terminal – now Bob Hope Airport.

Thousands attended. The Times reported in the Friday, Nov. 24, 1939, edition:

Santa Claus Welcomed

Children at Air Terminal Cheer St. Nick and Wife as Yule Season Opens

From frozen Igloo-Foo on the Fjord to the sunny Southland came Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus yesterday to open the Christmas season officially here.

A cheer from nearly 4,000 children and parents greeted the jolly pair as they swept into Union Air Terminal on the Times’ Special United Air Lines Mainliner.

It was Mrs. Claus’ first appearance south of the famed Igloo-Foo on the Fjord, southernmost outpost of Santa’s Arctic domain.

(Mr. and Mrs. Claus traveled by streamlined sleigh from their Crystal Ice Palace at the North Pole to meet the plane at Igloo-Foo, where Mrs. Claus used the candied icicle crop to make North Pole taffy.)

Children who greeted Santa were given samples of the holiday candy.

Principal feature of the arrival was Mrs. Claus’ surprise at things which seem very ordinary to Southern California residents.

“Where are the igloos?” was one of her questions.

She also expressed amazement at the scarcity of icebergs at the airport.

The above seven images were taken during the 1938 and 1939 Santa Claus Expeditions.

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