From the mid 1920s until the 1960s, the boredom of traveling across the long stretches of Texas often would be broken by clever advertising signs placed along highways by Burma-Vita, a shaving cream company owned by Leonard and Allen Odell with headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Burma Shave was their brand of brushless shaving cream that used humorous rhyming poems on small signs along the highways, spaced about 100 feet apart so that a few words could be read as the car sped by at speeds up to 40 miles per hour.
In the fall of 1925, the first set of Burma-Shave signs went up on highways leading out of Minneapolis. These signs increased sales immediately so the two brothers spent $25,000 that year on signs and the sales jumped to $68,000. More than 7,000 signs were placed along America’s highways from coast to coast.
Although the signs eventually faded into disrepair and were taken down in the 1960s, replicas of the Burma-Shave signs still can be seen along the old Route 66 in Arizona.
Typically six signs were erected with each of the first five containing a line of verse and the last sign displaying the Burma-Shave name. These signs became an item that families eagerly looked forward to seeing and broke the monotony of long trips.
By 1947, Burma-Shave sales rose to more than 6 million dollars. The Burma-Shave company was sold to the Gillette Company in 1963 and later sold to Phillip Morris. By 1966, the last signs disappeared with a few ending up in museums.
I well remember reading the signs along Highway 90 to Houston and to San Antonio when on the way to visit relatives. During World War II, the speed limit on the highways was 35 mph so children could have plenty of time to learn to read the poems.
The following are just a few of the 7000 verses, or poems that appeared on the signs with the last sign being Burma-Shave:
1. Heaven’s latest — neophyte — signaled left — then turned right — Burma Shave;
2. Is he lonesome — or just blind — the guy who drives — so close behind;
3. The bearded devil — is forced to dwell — in the only place — where they don’t sell;
4. My job is — keeping faces clean — and nobody knows — the stubble I’ve seen;
5. Diplomacy is — to do and say — the nastiest things — in the nicest way;
6. Her chariot raced — at eight per — they hauled away — what had been her;
7. Cautious rider — to her reckless dear — let’s have less bull — and lots more steer;
8. Slow down, Pa, — sakes alive — Ma missed signs — four and five;
9. The bearded lady — tried a jar — she’s now — a famous movie star;
10. Before I tried it — the kisses I missed — but afterwards, boy — the misses I kissed;
11. The poorest guy — in the human race — can have a — million dollar face;
12. Substitutes — are like a girdle — they find some jobs — they just can’t hurdle;
13. Substitutes — can let you down — quicker than — a strapless gown;
14. Passing schoolhouses — take it slow — let the little — shavers grow;
15. Drowsy? — just remember Pard — that marble slab — is doggone hard;
16. In cupid’s little — bag of trix — here’s the one — that clix — with chix;
17. Although insured — remember, kiddo — they don’t pay you — they pay your widow;
18. Train approaching — whistle squealing — pause — avoid that rundown feeling;
19. The proper distance — to him was bunk — they pulled him out — of some guy’s trunk;
20. Dianah doesn’t — treat him right — but if he’d shave — Dianah-mite;
21. A man, a miss —a car, a curve — he kissed the miss — and missed the curve;
22. Don’t stick your elbow — out so far — it may go home — in another car;
23. Don’t lose your head — to gain a minute — you need your head — your brains are in it;
24. Drove too long — driver snoozing — what happened next — is not amusing;
25. The one that drives — when he’s been drinking — depends on you — to do his thinking.
There are several books containing thousands of Burma-Shave poems that once amused drivers along our nation’s highways. If you remember seeing these signs, you are more than half a century old.
I just didn’t think growing old would come so fast. Have a great day!