Vintage PR Shot: The Christmas Essex

Christmas Essex, San Francisco 1927

For decades, Santa Claus has conducted public relations work for car dealerships, as shown by this shot, taken 95 years ago today – December 17, 1927.  In the above picture, a San Francisco Hudson-Essex dealer is delivering Christmas cheer to students at the Gough School for the Deaf, during a week when its “Christmas Essex” meandered all over the Bay Area with Santa perched atop on a wooden sleigh.

The dealership involved in this PR shot was Stanley W. Smith, Inc., located just three blocks from where this photo was taken.

1927 Essex Super-Six Ad

Since the Essex car brand has long since retreated from most people’s memory, an overview of the marque’s 15-year history may be helpful.  A subsidiary of Hudson, Essex is best remembered for being an early promotor of fully-enclosed cars.  And since its cars were well built and relatively affordable, they found a solid following in the 1920s among North America’s growing middle class.  Regarding closed vehicles, the Hudson-Essex Company’s sales manager noted that when the closed Essex was introduced in 1918, closed cars were considered luxuries – but within a few years it was open cars that were considered luxuries.  The middle class owed a debt of gratitude, and a lot of comfort, to Essex.  The Essex nameplate lasted until 1933, after which time it was replaced in Hudson’s lineup by  Terraplane.

Though 1920s Essex ads promoted the car’s ability to sustain high speed all day long, our featured “Christmas Essex” (a 1927 Super-Six) was lucky to achieve a walking pace.

1926 Stanley W. Smith San Francisco Essex ad

Initially envisioned as a showroom attraction and as a clever way to deliver Christmas gifts to the dealership’s employees, when the white sleigh-car was first steered onto San Francisco streets in mid-December, it was mobbed by children.  Capitalizing on an enticing public relations move, Stanley W. Smith added a few more routes to Santa’s schedule.  Namely, the dealer advertised in Bay Area newspapers that Santa’s Essex would visit places where ill, disabled or “shut-in” kids resided.

Identified by door markings proclaiming The Christmas Essex from Stanley W. Smith Inc., this vehicle called on every children’s hospital in San Francisco and Oakland, homes for crippled children, and the dealership asked the public to suggest other homes and places where they could find children who would ordinarily not be able to see Santa Claus at the downtown locations where the white-bearded man typically visited.

The Christmas Essex’s actual travel continued to be slow.  Children often swarmed around the Essex, prompting San Francisco’s police officers to kindly request that the dealership keep Santa off of downtown streets at rush hour to avoid gridlock.

Christmas Essex, San Francisco 1927

And it was under these circumstances that the Essex visited the Gough School for the Deaf eight days before Christmas.  The driver parked on Gough St., just south of the Washington St. intersection, and the school’s principal brought her children out to meet St. Nick.  Santa carried a bag of toys in his roof-mounted sleigh, and furthermore, the Christmas Essex was equipped with a letter box where children could deposit letters addressed to Santa Claus.

During its brief tenure, the Christmas Essex brought joy and spread goodwill throughout San Francisco.  We can only guess whether this was a profitable business move, because while it certainly brought attention to Stanley W. Smith, Inc. and its products, a few weeks of driving this rig around the region must have been mighty time consuming.  And it doesn’t appear that the dealership attempted this type of feat in future years.  Though while it may not have generated additional car sales, it sure brought a lot of smiles to where they were needed the most.  This was undoubtedly the jolliest Essex ever.