Click Here To Learn More About John McDonald
I do a lot of traveling throughout our state and find myself bouncing down all kinds of roads that are in various states of repair – some of them appear to be almost passable. As I headed Down East the other day to entertain a group of conventioneers with some Maine stories I realized that every driver on the road but me was talking on a cell phone.
How did people survive, how did people manage to survive on a road trip in those seemingly innocent days before cell phones came along?
Then it hit me. Burma Shave signs! Remember Burma Shave signs?
Before going any further I may as well include a few words here about the Burma Shave phenomenon for the one or two readers who have no idea what I'm talking.
A long time ago, in 1925 – which seems longer ago every year now that I think of it – a young man named Allan Odell told his father Clinton Odell, who just happened to be a shaving cream maker, about this great idea he had for advertising.
Son Allan's idea was to use small, wooden roadside signs to pitch their product, Burma-Shave, one of the country's first brushless shaving creams. Dad wasn't
wild about the idea. Fact is with a name like Clinton Odell he probably was never wild about anything, if you know what I mean.
But being a good father and wanting to give the kid something to do Clinton gave his son $200 to give the idea a try. Soon after his first Burma Shave signs went up, sales of the shaving cream soared.
Before long Allan and his brother Leonard were putting up signs all over the country. At first the signs were pure sales pitches, but after a few years the signs began showing a little of the Odell sense of humor. They say at their height of popularity there were 7,000 Burma-Shave signs along the highways of America.
At least three or four sets of them were placed on the roads we took to our grandparents when I was a kid, a route we traveled often when I was a kid. The familiar white on red signs, grouped by four, fives and sixes, were as much a part of our family trip as any important cell phone call today.
How could drivers fail to be amused, distracted and entertained by lines like: “She put a bullet/through his hat/but he's had closer/shaves than that/with Burma
Shave.” Or, as a tribute to our nations agricultural roots, they composed gems like: “Said farmer Brown/who's bald on top/wish I could/rotate the crop/Burma Shave. During the 1960s, in what some might consider the “beat: influence on Burma Shave, there were offerings like "Ben met Anna/made a hit/neglected beard/Ben-Anna split/Burma Shave.”
It probably says something about how dull our lives were back then that we actually looking forward to our next encounter with a string of Burma Shave signs. Now that they’re gone people have nothing to look forward to but their next cell phone call, so I guess not ALL change has been for the best.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is mainestoryteller@yahoo.com.
Would you like to read past issues of Numb As A Pounded Thumb?
Click Here