Maybe it's time for more Burma-Shave signs
COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
"Hey, Warren! I didn't know you were old enough to remember Burma-Shave signs!"
I looked up from my first-of-the-morning coffee at Cochrane's A&W, and there, beaming at me from way across the restaurant, was Windy Erhardt. He was holding up last week's edition of the Cochrane Eagle with my column that made reference to the legendary American advertising phenomenon.
Windy isn't the only one around town with fond memories of Burma-Shave slogans, it turns out. Anyone who traveled much along American highways from the 1920s to the 1960s couldn't help but comment on those sage, often humorous sayings that appeared along roadsides.
Yet, I also discovered that the youngest two generations of folks around town didn't have a clue what I was referring to.
So, on behalf of all us older folks of Burma-Shave times, I thought I'd better fill the less-than-middle-agers in on one of our secrets for enjoying the passing scenery on those long trips.
What started out as a gimmick for promoting a brushless shaving cream back in 1925 soon became the prelude to modern billboard advertising.
As you drove down the road, every so often you'd encounter the familiar series of five or six small white-on-red wooden signs. The first sign would grab your attention with a short phrase to do with shaving or life in general, then a few paces further there'd be another phrase, and you were hooked you had to see how the rest of the series of signs would read. The last sign always featured "Burma-Shave":
Often, the slogans were aimed directly at road-weary drivers:
Or this one:
Drinking and driving didn't escape notice, either:
Or this one:
Romance was a major theme:
Or this one:
Obviously, the point of these signs was to sell a product. It's not surprising, then, that so many of the best slogans had whiskers in mind:
Or this one, which hits awfully close to home:
The company was quite aware of its successful strategy:
At the height of their popularity, over 7,000 sets of signs dotted the American landscape. But with the rise of high-speed divided highways and electric razors, they faded into history. One slogan actually wound up in an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.:
Well, Burma-Shave signs are no more along the highways and byways. But if they were, I wonder what they would say in 2004? Any ideas?
© 2004 Warren Harbeck