Burma-Shave Advertising Signs

By the 1920s, commercial signs and billboards turned the roadside into an advertising medium. Allan Odell, sales manager of the family-owned Burma-Vita Company, created serial roadside rhymes in 1926 to advertise the company’s brushless shaving cream. He was inspired by a string of signs leading to a service station in Illinois, each sign promoting a product or service available at the station. The earliest Burma-Shave signs boosted sales significantly; the sign program spread so rapidly that the company began a nationwide contest, resulting in dozens of selections annually. Some verses merely extolled the Burma-Shave product, while others made light of facial hair, shaving, and intimacy with the opposite sex. Gradually the company introduced “public service announcements” in the form of humorous reminders to drive safely or suffer the consequences. This rhyme is a commentary on the serious problem of drinking and driving. Verses of this type cautioned motorists to be aware of the risks of expanded personal mobility and drive safely and responsibly.
Object Name
date made
Burma-Vita Company
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
paint (overall material)
overall: 17 in x 40 in x 6 in; 43.18 cm x 101.6 cm x 15.24 cm
place made
United States: Minnesota, Minneapolis
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
American Enterprise
Road Transportation
American Enterprise
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Brian Linker
Additional Media

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