The Burma Shave Phenomenon

American FlagAmerican Flag
Burma Shave

     Most people of today's generation have never heard of Burma shave, but ask anyone who lived in America from the 1920s into the early sixties, and you will bring up an extraordinary fixture of their past.

A Burma Shave roadside

     Burma Shave was one of the world's first brushless shaving cream manufacturers and spawned heavy competition for their product, but this certain company had an upper hand in winning over customers. Burma Shave signs were the precursor to modern billboard signs on America's earliest roads. They were an interesting diversion from long drives and began to spring up all over the country throughout the mid-twentieth century. The signs were often humorous jingles that were placed at intervals along the road, each sign showing one line of the four-part rhyme until the last sign which concluded the clever advertising scheme with "Burma-Shave".

Some examples of Burma Shave rhymes:
OUR FORTUNE
IS YOUR SHAVEN FACE
IT'S OUR BEST
ADVERTISING SPACE
BURMA-SHAVE
BEN MET ANNA
MADE A HIT
NEGLECTED BEARD
BEN-ANNA SPLIT
BURMA-SHAVE
THIS CREAM MAKES THE
GARDENER'S DAUGHTER
PLANT HER TU-LIPS
WHERE SHE OUGHTER
BURMA-SHAVE
IF YOUR PEACH
KEEPS OUT OF REACH
BETTER PRACTICE
WHAT WE PREACH
BURMA-SHAVE
THE BIG BLUE TUBE'S
JUST LIKE LOUISE
YOU GET A THRILL
FROM EVERY SQUEEZE
BURMA-SHAVE
SAID FARMER BROWN
WHO'S BALD ON TOP
"WISH I COULD
ROTATE THE CROP"
BURMA-SHAVE
SHE PUT A BULLET
THROUGH HIS HAT
BUT HE'S HAD CLOSER
SHAVES THAN THAT
WITH BURMA-SHAVE
IF YOU DON'T KNOW
WHOSE SIGNS THESE ARE
YOU CAN'T HAVE
DRIVEN VERY FAR
BURMA-SHAVE
HENRY THE EIGHTH
SURE HAD TROUBLE
SHORT-TERM WIVES
LONG-TERM STUBBLE
BURMA-SHAVE

The history...

     It all began during the Roaring Twenties when the Odell family conjured up the formula after looking for a more profitable product that would be used daily by customers. Their previous product, the Burma Vita could only benefit the ill, so the family decided to persue a wider market. After repeated experimentation on the new brushless shaving cream, the product was finally born and ready for sale.
     Several poor marketing ploys were used at first which forced the family business try new alternatives. Alan Odell came up with the idea of the signs, which would relieve him of his tiring travel duties, but his father did not accept the idea immediately. After some persuasion, the first signs were put up in 1925, and remained as American landmarks until about 1963.
     The original signs did not rhyme, but were usually a series of four signs, each having something to say about the product. Travelers began requesting for the product after seeing the funny lines on the road and Burma Shave began to expand production for the demanding druggists. Sales were going through the roof, and signs spread from Minnesota to the surrounding states. Here was a company that was virtually unaffected by the Great Depression due to mass appeal from their uplifting advertisements!

speed zone ahead

The National Recognition...

     Long journeys became something to look forward to as the catchy sign sprang up all over roads the of the U.S.A. Audiences began to include more than just farmers, who had been the ones receiving the most exposure to the signs. The jingles were short and cute, and attracted more attention than other ads. Youths were big fans of the ad campaign, as many of the jokes catered to them. It was somewhat of an addiction, as people loved to see the new signs and collect the rhymes. These jingles were a nice departure from the other hygienic ads that became commonplace.
     Burma Shave stood out in American marketing, and it even seemed to have its own individual personality. Careful never to offend anyone, the signs quickly became a part of the popular culture. The slogans included safety and moral messages, and weren't restricted to male wallets:

A CHRISTMAS HUG
A BIRTHDAY KISS
AWAITS THE WOMAN
WHO GIVES THIS
BURMA SHAVE
IF DAISIES ARE YOUR
FAVORITE FLOWER
KEEP PUSHIN' UP THOSE
MILES-PER-HOUR
BURMA-SHAVE
LISTEN BIRDS
THESE SIGNS COST MONEY
SO ROOST AWHILE
BUT DON'T GET FUNNY
BURMA-SHAVE
MANY A FOREST
USED TO STAND
WHERE A LIGHTED MATCH
GOT OUT OF HAND
BURMA-SHAVE
THIRTY DAYS
HATH SEPTEMBER
APRIL, JUNE
AND THE SPEED OFFENDER
BURMA-SHAVE
THE ONE WHO DRIVES
WHEN HE'S BEEN DRINKING
DEPENDS ON YOU
TO DO HIS THINKING
BURMA-SHAVE

     While Madison Ave. was the hub of the industry, Burma Shave was doing rather well independently. It was even molding shaping the industry itself quite a bit. From the success of the signs, there was no need at this point in time for any other advertising media.
     Burma Shave was even known to be ingrained so much in the heads of Americans that when one went off to fight, homesick GIs posted burma shave signs all around the world wherever they went. This was similar to the similar to the "Kilroy was here" grafitti sprouting up all over the place during the war.
     Ordinary folk could even interact, as contests for the most creative jingle were held to allow for a more continuous supply of verses. Thousands of high quality entries poured in. Promotional Burma Shaves bottles at sporting events made news when emotions stirred. Sometimes signs disapeared near college towns for room decorations. Burma Shave made absurd claims to mock coupon consumers for humor, and some took them quite seriously, leading to even more publicity for the company.

no more brushes
You can just imagine the outcomes of these rhymes! But Burma Shave was quick to fulfill a promise or atleast get as close to fulfillment as possible.
FREE OFFER! FREE OFFER!
RIP A FENDER OFF YOUR CAR
MAIL IT IN
FOR A HALF-POUND JAR
BURMA-SHAVE
FREE - FREE
A TRIP TO MARS
FOR 900
EMPTY JARS
BURMA SHAVE

     All types of fenders were sent in to the company, so the company company completed its part of the bargain. Now the trip to Mars was a harder promise to fulfill, and an enterprising supermarket manager acheived his end of the bargain. The company's first reply: If a trip to Mars you's earn, remember, friend, there's no return. So the manager continued and turned it into a big promotion for the shaving company. The man won, and was sent to Mars...Mars, (spelled Moers, but pronounced Mars) Germany, that is. Publicity was enormous, and the company's little gag paid off.

The End of an Era...

     With the diminishing countryside and the expansion of America, Burma Shave could no longer keep up. Faster automobiles, huge billboards, superhighways, decreasing sales, and increasing costs to keep up the signs led the Odell family to sell business to Phillip Morris, Inc. a division of the conglomerate American Safety Razor Products who no longer viewed the ad campaign to be a smart business venture.
     Similar to the craze of the unconventionally practical Volkswagen Beetle, Burma Shave had set itself apart and became commaonplace. Burma Shave also set precedence for other advertisers to follow with similar serial ads. The small family business was well known. Everyone knew Burma Shave. Approximately seven thousand verses had been made on signs outstretching 45 states. It had become a part of the culture, and made one feel at home. razor

3-way!

For more information on Burma Shave and posts of original verses, please visit the following web sites:


<Comments? email me, Marvin Thomas, creator of this site!>

Burma-Shave™ is a registered trademark of American Safety Razor Company. Neither this page nor the creator/maintainer of this page is associated with Burma-Shave™, Volkswagen, American Safety Razor Company. This page is intended for entertainment, nostalgic, informational, and non-profit purposes only.