This past week I received an email featuring the old Burma Shave signs that used to entertain us so many years ago as we traveled along the by-ways throughout the country. Remember those, the little red signs with white letters and short little messages of sage wisdom that were placed every so many miles along the highways? Messages such as: “Passing Cars—When You Can’t see—May Get You— a glimpse of—Eternity—Burma-Shave.” Or…”If you drive—While You’re Drunk—Carry Your Coffin—In Your Trunk—Burm-Shave.”
When I was little, Dad would take me with him on the truck when he hauled his grain to Utah. I used to look forward to those jingles, and he would read them to me as we rolled down the road. Later, after I entered school and learned to read myself, we would take turns reading these limericks aloud. We made a game of it. In addition to the bits of sage wisdom, they would also throw in a funny verse or two along the way, such as: “Don’t Kiss Your Girlfriend—At The Gate—Love May Be Blind—But The Neighbors Ain’t—Burma-Shave.” Or you might see this one: “Ben met Anna—Made a Hit—Neglected Beard—Ben-Anna Split—Burma-Shave.”
From what I’ve been able to learn about Burma Shave, it was one of the first, if not the first company, to introduce the brushless shave cream. Their big pitch was that the cumbersome task of stirring up a lather in the shaving mug every morning was no longer necessary. Just take a little Burma Shave from a glass jar, or squeeze some from the tube into your hand, lather up your face, and begin shaving. They also said this brushless cream eliminated the need for carrying a mug and brush in the travel kit. The tube took up much less space.
In the beginning, Burma Shave was a relatively small company with even smaller advertising capital. They were not able to afford the expensive national radio ads necessary to get them the recognition needed to spur their sales. Hence, the mini-billboard Burma Shave signs were born. They initiated them in the year 1925 in a small target area, and sales immediately began to rise. The little red and white signs were soon seen along just about every major highway in the entire United States, and national sales skyrocketed almost beyond the company’s ability to keep up with demand. I don’t remember seeing them in Southeastern Idaho, however. They may have been over in the western part of the state, I don’t know. My own memories of the little billboards are mostly of those I saw in Utah while riding with Dad on the truck. Later, when I reached adulthood and traveled through other states, I encountered more of them.
With the advent of the Interstate Freeway system, and the higher speeds on these roads, people were less able to pay attention to their messages, and the signs were no longer as effective as they had once been. They were removed from the main thoroughfares in 1963 which included the final jingle: Our fortune—-is your—shaven face—It’s our best—advertising space—Burma Shave. I kinda miss those little signs and the anticipation of reading the latest series of jingles they offered. As I recall, they were rotated out at regular intervals, so people traveling the same route day after day could experience a new jingle every few months. It is said these little signs gave birth to a new form of advertising and were a pre-cursor to the large billboards we see today along the freeway system.
But it’s not just for the jingles alone that we seniors remember these miniature billboards. They remind us of the days of a slower paced more relaxed America; an era when most everyone took time to smell the roses. Today, it seems everybody is in such a hurry. We buy a new computer every six months for that more up to date faster model that will boot up in five seconds instead of ten. We drive 80 per on the freeway when the speed limit is 75. No more leisurely motor trips; they’re too slow. If we can’t fly, we don’t go. The Burma Shave signs would, today, be nothing but a blur. So for another glimpse at the leisurely days they represented, here are a few more of those little verses of sage wisdom and humor. “Why Is It—When you—Try To Pass—The Car In Front—Goes Twice as Fast—Burma-Shave.” “Cattle Crossing—Means Go Slow—That Old Bull—Is Some Cow’s Beau—Burma-Shave.” And last but not least: “It Would Be Fun—To Go By Air—But We Can’t Hang—These Signs Up There—Burma-Shave.”
I’ll close with a Burma Shave type jingle of my own. If Memories Old—You Like To Read—Turn To This Blog Post—Once a week—You Might Just Find——What It Is You Seek—Will Edwinson.
You can also get a free copy of my book Buddy…His Trials and Treasures, by clicking on the free download button at upper right of this page. , and read about a young boy growing up during the 1940s.