Before 1931, there were many different depictions of Santa Claus around the world, including a tall gaunt man and an elf —there was even a scary Claus.
But in 1931, Coca-Cola commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblom to paint Santa for Christmas advertisements. Those paintings established Santa as a warm, happy character with human features, including rosy cheeks, a white beard, twinkling eyes and laughter lines.
Sundblom drew inspiration from an 1822 poem by Clement Clark Moore called “A Visit from St. Nicholas” —commonly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
Fun Fact: In 1890, Massachusetts businessman James Edgar became the first department store Santa, according to The Smoking Jacket.