Monday, July 21, 2008

Burma Shave—Bygone Days

Actual Burma Shave Sign c.1933

These signs were born in the late 1920s and lasted until the beginning of the1960s. The highways and cars were different then, most automobile of that time went about 35 miles an hour, which made it easier to read the signs. In the Twenties roads were improving as were the autos, speed was increasing and people started going greater distances.

They used stencils and a brush to coat the signs, a series of six signs were placed a short distance from one another to make them easier to read. The success of the signs was the light hearted humor, they were a joy to read and never offended anyone, except maybe the competition. Reading the signs out loud became a habit and everyone in the car saying them at the same time was fun. I know when we were kids and out in the car we always looked for the Burma Shave signs.

This is the way it worked to get the signs on different locations, they would send out men to cruise the highways watching for ideal spots to put the signs. The spot had to be a stretch of road visible for a considerable distance, no curves just a straight road. Then they would go about working out a deal with whoever owned the land, the land was rented for a year, and usually the people would sign a contract for next year. There were some people that signed for decades.

The Burma-Vita Company was sold to Philip Morris, Inc., the road signs were growing costlier and less effective. The company was using other means of advertising the product, so the road signs were coming to a halt. Some people of today swear they have seen Burma Shave signs, I know I wish I could see them one more time.


What a sad time in 1963 when Philip Morris bought Burma Shave, it was a part of American history that is remembered only by the older generation and is missed. If you have a memory of the signs let me know.


dcloud said...

Mom I love it when you talk about these old things because then I'm inspired to go searching for information about them. With this post I spent about an hour searching Google and came up with a couple really interesting places. I will send them to you in an e-mail, but one really cool thing I will tell you here.

There is a book called The Verse by the Side of the Road, by Frank Rowsome Jr. I found it on and it's the entire history of the Burma-Shave campaign. You should check it out. I'm sure you would love it.

Thanks again for sharing this and keep digging up more of yesterday's memories for us to read.


Margaret Cloud said...

Thank you Doug for your nice comment and sharing your thoughts.

meggie said...

I have heard about these advertisments, but never knew much about them. Thanks for your informative post about this! They sound clever & a lot more interesting than the boring TV ads!

You would remember the old Ma & Pa Kettle movies!

Margaret Cloud said...

thank you meggie, TV ads are not what they were at first and they are boring, come by any time.

Fritinancy said...

I remember Burma-Shave signs from childhood road trips in the western states (late 1950s-early 1960s). A couple decades later, I saw a one-man show on the history and poetry of Burma-Shave. That experience led me to a book, "The Verse by the Side of the Road," by Frank Rowsome, which collects all 600 of the Burma-Shave signs.

You can read more about Burma-Shave advertising at Also see

Margaret Cloud said...

thank you fritinancy for coming by and sharing, I do have this book and it is a good one, come by anytime.

Granny J said...

I'm old enough to remember Burma Shave and its signs quite well! We moved from Phoenix to florida in the mid-30s & every two years would drive across the country to visit grandparents (2 sets) in Phoenix and in California, so there was plenty of opportunity to read the verses.

Margaret Cloud said...

thank you granny for sharing, I have heard there is still a few of the signs out there, I think maybe on Route 66 to California.

me ann my camera said...

Margaret, I think I saw some of these signs along a highway in Maine in the early '60's. It might have been along old highway #1, I don't know if they had Interstate 95 at that time or not. I had never seen anything like that before and had found it fascinating! That probably would have been around the end of their era. Thanks for the memory.

Yours is a very interesting blog and I see you have an interesting hobby of bottle collecting. We used to collect blue bottles.

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