“I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” is a Christmas novelty song written by John Rox (1902–1957) and performed by Gayla Peevey (10 years old at the time) in 1953. The song peaked at number 24 on Billboard magazine’s pop chart in December 1953.
Peevey was a child star from Ponca City, Oklahoma. When released nationally by Columbia Records, the song shot to the top of the charts and the city zoo acquired a baby hippo named Matilda.
A popular legend holds that this 1953 hit had been recorded as a fund-raiser to bring the city zoo a hippo; but in a 2007 radio interview with Detroit-based WNIC radio station, Peevey clarified that the song was not originally recorded as a fundraiser. Instead, a local promoter picked up on the popularity of the song and Peevey’s local roots, and launched a campaign to present her with an actual hippopotamus on Christmas.
The campaign succeeded, and she was presented with an actual hippopotamus, which she donated to the city zoo. The hippopotamus lived for nearly 50 years.
Gayla Peevey later recorded as Jamie Horton, scoring the Billboard Hot 100 charter “My Little Marine” in 1960.
The B-side of the original 78 featured the song “Are my Ears on Straight?”