Burma Shave

Most early boomers remember Burma Shave, but probably more for the signs than the actual product. Those family road trips weren't quite as boring if you could spot that first one liner, and then watch for the punch line a few signs later!

History

So who knew what Burma Shave really was? A brush-less shaving cream first introduced in 1925 by the Burma-Vita Company in Minneapolis. But sales were slow early on, and the only way to perk them up was by advertising. A young man by the name of Allan Odell convinced his father Clinton (who owned the company) that roadside advertising was the way to go, coinciding with the early popularity of the automobile and road trips. The campaign succeeded, ultimately pushing Burma Shave to the second best selling shaving cream at its peak.

In place generally from 1926 until 1963 in most states around the country, Burma Shave signs advertised the product by making fun of Grandpa's old fashioned shaving cream that still needed a brush. Over the years, some of the signs went beyond just advertising the product, taking on a public interest by encouraging safe driving, but always with clever humor and rhymes. Allan wrote most of the early signs himself, but soon the family started offering cash prizes up to $100 for others to submit their own home-spun messages.

The advent of the interstate highway system in the 1950s would make it a lot tougher for small signs to catch the eye of drivers now going faster. When Burma-Vita was acquired by Phillip Morris in 1963, the signs were discontinued on the advice of legal counsel. But at the height of their popularity, there were some 600 Burma Shave messages displayed on 7000 signs across the country, and the signs were changed out once a year by a sign crew operating with just eight trucks. As one sign aptly put it, "If You Don't Know / Whose Signs / These Are / You Can't Have / Driven Very Far".

Burma Shave Sign Posts

Some of the jingles simply advertised the original product:

  • Relief for faces / Chapped and sore / Keeps 'em comin' / Back for more
  • Big blue tube / It's a honey / Best squeeze play / For love / Or money
  • Soap / May do / For lads with fuzz / But sir, you ain't / The kid you wuz
  • When you lay / Those few cents down / You've bought the smoothest / Shave in town
  • Men who / Have to / Travel light / Find the 35 cent tube / Just Right
  • A shave / That's real / No cuts to heal / A soothing / Velvet after-feel

Other jingles advertised a new addition to their product line:

  • For early / Morning / Pep and bounce / A brand new / Product / We announce / Burma Shave Lotion
  • Use Burma Shave / In tube or jar / Then follow up / With our new star / Burma Shave Lotion
  • It has a tingle / And a tang / That starts / The day off / With a bang / Burna Shave Lotion
  • His face / Was smooth / And cool as ice / And oh! Louise! / He smelled so nice / Burma Shave Lotion

Many of the jingles pushed the product to improve one's love life:

  • The wife / who keeps on / Being kissed / Always heads / Her shopping list
  • I know / He's a wolf / Said Red Riding Hood / But Grandma dear / He smells so good
  • Unless / Your face / Is stinger free / You'd better let / Your honey be
  • A chin / Where barbed wire / Bristles stand / Is bound to be / A no ma'ams land
  • We can't / Provide you / With a date / But we do supply / The best darn bait
  • My cheek / Say she / Feels smooth as satin / Ha! Ha! says he / That's mine you're pattin'
  • A beard / That's rough / And overgrown / Is better than / A chaperon
  • These signs / We gladly / Dedicate / To men who've had / No date of late
  • To steal / A kiss / He had the knack / But lacked the cheek / To get one back
  • If Crusoe'd / Kept his chin / More tidy / He might have found / A lady Friday
  • If harmony / Is what / You crave / Then get / A tuba / Burma Shave
  • He asked / His kitten / To pet and purr / She eyed his puss / And screamed / "What fur!" 
  • This cream / Makes the / Gardener's daughter / Plant her tu-lips / Where she oughter
  • The hero / Was brave and strong / And willin' / She felt his chin / Then wed the villain
  • Grandpa knows / It ain't too late / He's gone / To git / Some widder bait
  • A Christmas hug / A birthday kiss / Awaits / The woman / Who gives this
  • Ben / Met Anna / Made a hit / Neglected beard / Ben-Anna split 

As a company, Burma Shave seemed to appreciate its position along the side of the road, and hence a responsibility to promote safe driving (you don't see a lot of billboards doing that today!):

  • Better try / Less speed per mile / That car / May have to / Last a while
  • Spring / Has sprung / The grass has riz / Where last year's / Careless drivers is
  • Proper / Distance / To him was bunk / They pulled him out / Of some guy's trunk
  • A guy / Who drives / A car wide open / Is not thinkin' / He's just hopin'
  • On curves ahead / Remember, sonny / That Rabbit's foot / Didn't save / The bunny
  • Her chariot / Raced 80 per / They hauled away / What had / Ben Hur
  • Altho insured / Remember, kiddo / They don't pay you / They pay / Your widow
  • The safest rule / No ifs or buts / Just drive / Like everyone else / Is nuts!
  • Don't / Try passing / On a slope / Unless you have / A periscope
  • Passing cars / When you can't see / May get you / A glimpse / Of eternity
  • If daisies / Are your / Favorite flower / Keep pushin' up those / Miles per hour
  • Thirty days / Hath September / April, June / And the speed offender
  • Angels who guard you / When you drive / Usually retire / At sixty-five
  • You can drive / A mile a minute / But there is no / Future in it 

In fact, some of the messages took particular aim at driving while intoxicated:

  • Violets are blue / Roses are pink / On graves / Of those / Who drive and / Drink
  • Drinking drivers / Nothing worse / They put / The quart / Before the hearse
  • The one who / Drives when / He's been drinking / Depends on you / To do his thinking
  • The midnight / Ride of Paul / For beer / Led to a warmer / Hemisphere
  • Car in ditch / Man in tree / Moon was full / So was he!

Other messages encouraged both hands on the wheel while driving:

  • If hugging on highways / Is your sport / Trade in your car / For a davenport
  • If you must test / Her pucker paint / Be sure to drive / Where traffic ain't
  • They missed the turn / The car went whizzin' / The fault was hern / The funeral hisn
  • A nut at the wheel / A peach on his right / A curve in the road / Fruit salad that night
  • Don't put your arm out / Quite so far / It might go home / In another car

A few messages urged fire prevention and awareness:

  • The blackened forest / Smolders yet / Because / He flipped / A cigarette
  • Many a forest / Used to stand / Where a / Lighted match / Got out of hand
  • He lit a match / To check gas tank / That's why / They call him / Skinless Frank

Readers could find references to the military, especially applicable during the war years:

  • We've made / Grandpa / Look so trim / The local / Draft board's after him
  • Five star / Generals / Privates first class / Show equal rank / In the looking glass
  • He tried / To cross / As fast train / Neared / Death didn't draft him / He volunteered
  • She put / A bullet / Thru his hat / But he's had / Closer shaves than that

Always in good taste, some messages mixed humor with a bit more color:

  • Substitutes / Can let you down / Quicker /Than a / Strapless gown
  • Substitutes / Are like a girdle / They find some jobs / They just / Can't hurdle
  • His crop of / Whiskers / Needed reaping / That's what kept / His Lena leaping

Ultimately, roadside advertising for Burma Shave became so successful that the signs themselves almost seemed more important than the product they advertised:

  • We're widely read / And often quoted / But it's shaves / Not signs / For which we're noted
  • Another / Red skin / Bit the dust / When Pa tried / What these signs discussed
  • Our fortune / Is your / Shaven face / It's our best / Advertising space / Burma Shave
  • These signs / Are not / For laughs alone / The face they save / May be your own
  • Slow down, Pa / For sakes alive / Ma missed signs / Four and five / Burma Shave
  • Listen birds / These signs cost money / You can rest awhile / But don't get funny / Burma Shave

And finally, when the signs had run their course, perhaps the most poignant message of all:

  • Farewell O verse / Along the road / How sad to see / you're out of mode / Burma Shave


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