Santa Claus Over Time

Updated on Dec 23, 2019. Originally added on Dec 22, 2017 by Daniel Pinna
Santa wasn't always the fluffy jolly character we think of today.

In 1823, the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" - commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas" - popularized our current vision of Santa Claus. Based on the life of St. Nicholas (a 4th century Greek saint who was known for his secret gift giving), the "jolly old elf" has in many ways become the very image of Christmas in the West. He's known by many names - Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, Christkind, Kris Kringle, to name a few - but he's always a figure of largesse and the magic of the season.

But we don't have to tell you about Santa - he's been a part of everyone's lives for centuries. How we envision him has changed as he's become rounder and more jolly - but then, haven't we all with time(?!) - yet his spirit endures.

Here are some photos and drawings of Santa in the 19th and 20th centuries. Do they portray Santa as you know him?

Santa Claus Over Time

Little Mary asked “Are you the real Santa?” in 1949

Mary Louise Yarnall & Santa Claus, 1949 Pennsylvania

One of our favorites of Santa

Santa Claus

This classic photo was taken around 1895.

A serious conversation

Harry G. Haight



Santa sometimes travels by ship

Santa Claus

Hard at work building toys in 1907

Santa Claus 1907

1919 - he's left his gifts

Santa Claus - "Good Bye"

In the 20's, Santa used the post office

Santa Claus, Washington, D.C.

Using that new fangled invention the telephone . . .

Hello! Santa Claus

. . . to call Santa - 1890

Who needs reindeer when you’ve got a donkey?

Old-School Santa Claus

1876 drawing of children getting ready for Santa

Christmas eve--getting ready for Santa Claus

1910 - dreaming of Santa, not sugarplums

Photomontage, Santa Claus

The cannon is almost hiding Santa!

Santa Claus and cannons



And in 1897, Santa used the phone

Santa Claus telephoning

To call for supplies!

Lining up to send their letters to Santa

At Santa Claus Hdqts., N.Y.

Santa helps the Salvation Army

Santa Claus and Salvation Army


Santa was commercialized even as early as 1868

Santa Claus Label, 1868

Surrounded by children

Santa Claus captured by children

Poor Santa - the children mobbed him in 1897

Santa was popular with the ladies in 1902

Puck Christmas 1902 / Frank A. Nankivell 1902.

He’s got his hands full with children and toys in 1906

Santa Claus, 1906

Here he is in 1913 making quite the entrance!

Santa Claus Car in 1913

Taken around 1920

Santa Surrounded By Gifts

Jolly Saint Nick in 1921

Betty Sze

When the reindeer fail (in 1921) . . .

Santa Claus in Aeroplane

. . . call on a newfangled plane!

Santa can't forget the troops!

Santa Claus at Bolling field, 12/1/23

At Bolling Air Force Base in 1923.

Learning how to put out fires in case the chimney is roaring

Santa Claus story

Posing for the camera in 1925

Irene Rich & Santa Claus

Dressed up as Santa for a school play in 1950

Richard E. Mateyko

The smiles and joy Santa brings are unmistakable

Neil Marks & Santa, Fresno California

We recognize him today!

Santa Claus
Have photos that you'd like to see included? Share your photos or see wonderful photos of Christmas shopping in the 19th and 20th centuries on the next page.
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