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Thursday, April 06, 2017

DENNIS PATRICK: BURMA SHAVE FROM YEARS GONE BY

JIM’S TRUCKS

 

 

It was autumn 1949. A family drove north from Cheyenne across Wyoming headed for North Dakota. To the right-front just off the right-of-way along US Highway 85 south of Chugwater a series of small wooden signs bore the message of the first brushless shave cream.

The over-60 crowd will remember Burma Shave. Younger generations may need help. Back when the highways were just two lanes the white and red signs were a welcome sight. Jingles offered safe driving tips concluding with “Burma Shave.” Here are some samples:

                        No matter the price

                        No matter how new

                        The best safety device

                        In the car is you.

Or,

                        At intersections

                        Look each way

                        A harp sounds nice

                        But it’s hard to play.

And,

                        Passing school zone

                        Take it slow

                        Let our little

                        Shavers grow.

And again,

                        A man, a miss

                        A car, a curve

                        He kissed the miss

                        And missed the curve.

Who was responsible for this roadside entertainment? Clinton Odell, developer of the first brushless shave cream, founded the Burma-Vita Corp. in Minneapolis, MN. In 1925, during a period of slumping sales, his youngest son, Allan, proposed using small wooden signs along roadways to promote Burma Shave. Reluctantly, his father gave $200 to test his idea. Allan also paid $5 a year to rent space for the signs.

                        The midnight ride

                        Of Paul for beer

                        Led to a warmer

                        Hemisphere

Eventually over 7,000 signs were scattered over 45 states giving the impression that Burma-Vita was a large corporation. Actually, the company never exceeded 35 employees and the sign crews never had more than eight vehicles. The crews referred to themselves as PhD’s or posthole diggers.

                        Don’t lose your head

                        To gain a minute

                        You need your head

                        Your brains are in it.

Phillip Morris bought Burma Vita in 1963 and discontinued the Burma Shave line in 1966. Within a few years most Burma Shave signs were gone.

Today the red and white signs live in the memory of an aging generation. In a few years they may be totally forgotten. Does it matter? “Yes,” say those who lived through the Great Depression and World War II. Burma Shave signs brought cheer during those bleak years.

A set of Burma Shave signs, vaguely alluding to its own demise, is now preserved in the Smithsonian Institution.

                        Shaving brushes

                        You’ll soon see ‘em

                        On a shelf

                        In some museum.

Whatever became of Burma Shave? The American Safety Razor Company, an early subsidiary of Phillip Morris, revived the shave cream in 1997.

But, alas, not the signs.

 

Dennis M. Patrick can be contacted at P. O. Box 337, Stanley, ND 58784 or (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 

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