Burma Shave

Way back in 1925 young Allan Odell pitched this great advertising idea to his dad, Clifford. He suggested to use small, wooden roadside signs to sell their product, Burma-Shave, a brushless shaving cream. Dad wasn't wild about the idea but eventually gave Allan $200 to give it a try. Didn't take long for sales to soar. Soon Allan and his brother Leonard were putting up signs all over the dang place. At first the signs were pure sales pitch but as the years passed they found their sense of humor extending to safety tips and pure fun. And some good old-fashioned down home wisdom. At their height of popularity there were 7,000 Burma-Shave signs stretching across America. The familiar white on red signs, grouped by four, fives and sixes, were as much a part of a family trip as irritating your kid brother in the back seat of the car. You'd read first one, then another, anticpating the punch line on number five and the familiar Burma-Shave on the sixth. The signs cheered us during the Depression and the dark days of World War II. But things began to change in the late Fifties. Cars got faster and superhighways got built to accomodate them. The fun little signs were being replaced by huge, unsightly billboards. By 1963 they were all gone. As befits such an important part of American culture, one set is preserved by the Smithsonian Institution. It reads:


Shaving brushes You'll soon see 'em On a shelf In some museum Burma-Shave


Like haiku.... Here are a few that are worth remembering.


These signs We gladly Dedicate To men who've had No date of late Burma-Shave


He lit a match To check gas tank That's why They call him Skinless frank Burma-Shave


When passing Through school zones Please drive Slow. Let's let our Little shavers Grow. Burma Shave


To steal A kiss He had the knack But lacked the cheek To get one back Burma-Shave


She put A bullet Thru his hat But he's had Closer shaves than that Burma-Shave


It gave McDonald That needed charm Hello Hollywood Good-by farm Burma-Shave


"No, no," She said To her bristly beau "I'd rather Eat the mistletoe" Burma-Shave


These signs Are not For laughs alone The face they save May be your own Burma-Shave


No use Knowing How to pick 'em If your half-shaved Whiskers stick 'em Burma-Shave


She eyed His beard And said no dice The wedding's off-- I'll COOK the rice Burma-Shave


Henry VIII Sure Had Trouble Short Term Wives Long Term Stubble Burma Shave


When Super-shaved Remember, pard You'll still get slapped But not so hard


I'd heard it praised By drug store clerks I tried the stuff Hot dog! It works Burma-Shave


My job is Keeping faces clean And nobody knows De stubble I've seen Burma-Shave


On curves ahead Remember, sonny That rabbit's foot Didn't save The bunny Burma-Shave


Image of Burma-Shave: The Rhymes, the Signs, the Times
Author: Bill Vossler
Publisher: North Star Press of St. Cloud (1997)
Binding: Paperback, 192 pages
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