Eliot Ness’s “Save a Life for Christmas” campaign

When Eliot Ness became Cleveland’s Public Safety Director, Cleveland had the highest traffic fatality rate in the country. Ness developed a four-pronged approach to address this sad safety record: creation of the Accident Investigation Unit; establishment of a police ambulance force; implementing high-profile police patrols throughout the city; and launching the Accident Prevention Unit, a program to educate the public on traffic safety.

In 1939, the Accident Prevention Unit along with the Community Relations Department launched the “Save a Life for Christmas” campaign. The police distributed over 25,000 posters bearing the slogan and a picture of Santa Claus in an attempt to raise traffic safety awareness, especially among the throngs of holiday shoppers filling Cleveland’s downtown streets. “December always brings traffic headaches of bad weather, short days and holiday excitement. If all of us, whether we are motorists, pedestrians or parents of sleigh-riding youngsters, cross accidents off our Christmas list.”

The police even recruited Santa to help with the campaign! Patrolman John C. Chevin of the Bureau of Public Relations traveled the city as Santa Claus, “preaching safety and stressing the slogan: Save a Life for Christmas.”

CPD Candy Cane float with Santa and his Sleigh, towed by one of the department Tri-color Ford patrol cars, parked in front of Cleveland City Hall. Santa, Patrolman John C. Chevin #148 and his Elves, Patrolmen James C. Fitzwilliams #222 and Edward J. Flanagan #441

Officers issued jaywalking tickets and encouraged safe street crossing, especially outside of the city’s busy shopping districts. Here a police officer speaks with shoppers outside the Higbees Department Store on Ontario Street. Notice the high profile patrol car with the ‘Save A Life (for) Christmas’ bumper sign.

This holiday-themed safety campaign proved very successful and was repeated for years, lasting at least into the 1960s.

Plain Dealer 12/4/1940
Plain Dealer, 12/25/1940
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