Burma-shave signs
September 17, 2005 4:28 PM   Subscribe

When the stork
Delivers a boy
Our whole
Darn factory
Jumps for joy
posted by Pretty_Generic at 6:06 PM on September 17, 2005

I never saw a Burma-Shave sign myself, but my parents had a book about the signs and the company that I practically memorized. Classic intersection of marketing, history, and imagination.

I would love for there to be, somewhere, a set of Burma-Shave signs still standing, but I don't think they're out there anymore. Of course, that's what "they" said about the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker too, so what do they know?
posted by yhbc at 6:29 PM on September 17, 2005

very cool post... i actually use burma shave shaving soap... one of the byproducts of having really sensitive skin. for all those who haven't tried it, i'd highly recommend it. it's my daily zen activity.
posted by teletype1 at 6:44 PM on September 17, 2005

The fiftiesweb article mentions a sighting from 1986. See:

Fiftiesweb: Burma Shave intro

The slogan on them? It's the one at the top of this page.
posted by billb at 6:55 PM on September 17, 2005

The Hangar Theater in Ithaca, NY, has Burma-shave signs as ads in and around town.

Livejournal Love!
posted by Eideteker at 7:13 PM on September 17, 2005

I remember seeing Burma Shave signs in the Hill Country in Texas as a kid in the late 60s and early 70s. Probably the first "car game" I ever played on long car trips, even before the one where you count how many different states' license plates you could spot. Nice post.
posted by WolfDaddy at 7:15 PM on September 17, 2005

ybbc, I think I have that book. (How many can there be?) I snatched it up at a yard sale at some point. It's fantastic, and contains an appendix with all the known rhymes.

I think it would be an act of genius for a present-day company to bring back this marketing strategy. In fact, the more I think about midcentury strategies like this, the hipper they seem. Marketers tear their hair out figuring out how to position products, how to do branding without setting off our cynical, BS-warning bells, how to do product placement and strategic alliance, etc. You know, if they just entertained us with something utterly straightforward, bold, direct and simple like this, it would work.

Another thing that would work: picking a really damn strong and simple graphic logo, and painting it on the sides of buildings. BIG. Remember See Rock City? It;s still burned in my brain from childhood car trips 30 years ago.
posted by Miko at 7:41 PM on September 17, 2005

never heard of this before at all. thanks!
posted by es_de_bah at 8:18 PM on September 17, 2005

This darn blog
of kitsch and rumor
Ought to have
As much light humor

sorry -- it's early for me
posted by alumshubby at 5:17 AM on September 18, 2005

Miko: The DOT in some parts of Florida use this strategy. I've seen the following signs on US 1 heading to the Keys (which is only one lane in both directions between Homestead and Key Largo). They don't rhyme, however:

3 Minutes

I also seem to remember commecial Burma Shave-type signs in Central Florida back in the 80's, but I never found out anything about them. I don't think they were original Burma Shave ones, but were by a local business.
posted by May Kasahara at 5:45 AM on September 18, 2005

Do the links above cover all the Burma Shave rhymes? Ever since I read American Gods, I've been wondering whether the two rhymes quoted in it were real Burma Shave ones, or verses made up by Gaiman. Didn't see them in the links, though. I think they went something like this:

Life is hard
It's toil and trouble
Keep your jawline
Free from stubble
Burma Shave


He undertook
To overtake
The road was on a bend
Now the undertaker
Is his only friend
Burma Shave

posted by ubersturm at 11:30 AM on September 18, 2005

Ubersturm: Those are not listed in the appendix of my book. However, they are very close facsimiles to some actual verse.

The first would seem to be based on:

Life is Sweet
But oh how bitter!
To love a gal
And then not git 'er


Within this vale
Of toil and sin
Your head grows bald
But not your chin
Burma Shave

The second, in particular, matches many others whose theme is road safety. Those verses increase drastically through the 1940s, reflecting the increasing number of cars on the road. From the 20s to the late 30s, the rhymes almost exclusively focus on three things: Sucess with ladies, the low price of Burma-Shave, and its superiority over substitutes. After 1940 almost a third of them are about road safety -- passing, not driving drunk, keeping within the speed limit, paying attention.

Here's one:

Don't pass cars
On curve or hill
If cops don't get you
Morticians will
posted by Miko at 3:03 PM on September 18, 2005

When you kiss your honey
And your nose is really runny
You might think it's funny
But it's snot
posted by Balisong at 5:32 PM on September 18, 2005

If you are bad,
Or misbehave,
your uppance will come:
posted by Jon Mitchell at 6:04 PM on September 18, 2005

Miko: I believe the book I remember is The Verse By the Side of the Road, by Frank Rowsome, Jr. I may pick up a copy.
posted by yhbc at 6:56 PM on September 18, 2005

That's the one I have too, though the cover is different.
posted by Miko at 7:27 PM on September 18, 2005

Someone here once posted a Burma-esque invocation that is guaranteed to get you a parking spot:

Space is big
Space is dark
It's hard to find
A place to park

...and as you say "park," a spot will magically appear.

This is all IIRC. It delights me no end.
posted by scratch at 7:32 AM on September 19, 2005

Don't know if this is a real one and I'm much too lazy to search through all the links, but I see this on my Freaky Friday bike ride every Friday. It's in Burlington County, NJ.

Today's kids
Sure missed a treat
No moonlight rides
In a rumble seat

Wonder how many people that pass it even know what a rumble seat is?
posted by fixedgear at 1:16 PM on September 19, 2005

A whiskery kiss
For the one
You adore
May not make her mad
But her face will be sore
posted by redneck_zionist at 3:06 PM on September 20, 2005

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