Sunday, May 02, 2010

Burman Shave signs



Friday's column about driving to Florida in the fifties reminded Joe Wallen of the old Burma Shave signs that were a part of the landscape for travelers in the fifties.

I wrote a column about those signs back in January 2007. Here is that column:


Church signs hark back to old Burma-Shave campaign

I'm used to church sign slogans. It seems every church I drive past has a clever little saying on the board out front:

"Don't Climb the Mountain Till You Get to It"

"Our Church Is Prayer Conditioned"

"A Little Kneeling Will Keep You in Good Standing"

"Happy Hour Here Every Sunday Morning"

So I was charmed by the simple familiarity of five little signs that dotted the shoulder of Orebank Road:

You can't compare

Our pews to theirs

Here's the reason

We use chairs

Preston Hills Presbyterian Church

If you're under, say, 40, it's just four funny roadside signs with a church name as the punch line.

If you're over 40, the signs will bring a smile to your lips because they hark back to the greatest roadside advertising campaign in history, the old Burma-Shave signs.

Beginning in 1925 and continuing until 1963, the shaving cream company erected miniature billboards along roadways all over the country.

The rhyming signs were funny and wise and - most importantly - effective.

You always remembered the last sign: Burma-Shave.

I can't remember jokes, but I've always remembered a Burma-Shave series I saw years ago on the road to the beach:

Henry the Eighth

Sure had trouble

Short term wives

Long term stubble

Burma-Shave

I must have been studying Henry the Eighth in school at the time.

The reader who first alerted me to the Preston Hills signs recalled another series from the era of two-lane highways:

Fellow speeders

Let's rehearse

All together

"Good morning, nurse!"

Burma-Shave

Burma-Shave cooked up thousands of those jingles over the years. I used to own a copy of the book "The Verse By the Side of the Road," which provides example after example. I can't find the book anymore, but there are numerous Internet sites offering examples of the shaving company's pairs of rhymed couplets:

A man - a miss

A car - a curve

He kissed the miss

And missed the curve

Burma-Shave

* * *

Dinah doesn't

Treat him right

But if he'd shave

Dinah might

Burma-Shave

As shaving cream declined in sales and interstate highways proliferated, Burma-Shave effectively wrote its own obituary in verse.

Those five signs now reside in the Smithsonian Institution:

Shaving brushes

You'll soon see 'em

On a shelf

In some museum

Burma-Shave

When Advertising Age magazine compiled its top 100 ad campaigns of the 20th century in 1999, Burma-Shave ranked 23rd, highest of any outdoor-only campaign. (Volkswagen's "Think Small" ads from 1959 topped the list, followed by Coca-Cola's "The pause that refreshes," "The Marlboro Man," Nike's "Just do it" and McDonald's "You deserve a break today.")

It's been 40 years since I last saw any Burma-Shave signs. Until I drove up Orebank Road earlier this week.

Preston Hills Presbyterian Church offers a second set of Burma-Shave-like signs on the reverse side of the eastbound set.

I could quote them in this column, but that would spoil the fun of driving west on Orebank Road.

Let's just say, the first sign reads:

Fear of water?

You'll have to drive Orebank Road yourself to read the rest.

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