Burma-Shave Sign


In the early years of motoring, the Burma-Vita Company found a novel way to advertise its brushless shaving cream. Burma-Shave advertising signs, with their humorous, serial jingles, were spaced far apart on the roadside and made sense only to someone traveling at 35 miles per hour. From the 1920s to the 1960s, motorists had fun piecing the rhymes together, one phrase at a time, and reaching the wry, witty punch line. They memorized favorite verses and looked forward to the entertainment value of the signs, especially during long trips. Burma-Shave signs were the equivalent of the prize in a Cracker Jack box or the saying in a fortune cookie. They became a classic American form of visual communication in a league with comic strips and greeting cards, and like those whimsical media, the signs became part of twentieth century popular culture. Burma-Shave signs became a national favorite because they humanized highway travel and gave motorists a new way to consume the roadside. They touched many facets of American life; farmers repaired them, radio comedians satirized them, and college students pilfered them. Verses supported the war effort during World War II and anti-inflation efforts after the war. At the height of the program, there were 7,000 sets of signs in 45 states. But by the 1950s, television advertising made rival products more popular than Burma-Shave, and televised ads were more cost-effective than sending a team of sign installers out on the road. Increased highway speeds and limited-access highways also contributed to the decline of the Burma-Shave phenomenon. The sign program ended in 1963.

User: Bryant, Fred K.

Location: Currently not on view

See more items in: Work and Industry: Transportation, Road, Transportation, Road Transportation


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Fred K. Bryant

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 1986.0661.03Accession Number: 1986.0661Catalog Number: 1986.0661.0386.0661.03

Object Name: signOther Terms: sign; Road

Physical Description: wood (overall material)Measurements: overall: 1 3/4 in x 18 1/4 in x 40 in; 4.445 cm x 46.355 cm x 101.6 cm

Guid: http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ng49ca746a6-9898-704b-e053-15f76fa0b4fa

Record Id: nmah_844940

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