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Burma-Shave Sign

Burma-Shave Sign

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Description
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.
Location
Currently not on view
Object Name
sign
user
Bryant, Fred K.
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
ID Number
1986.0661.04
accession number
1986.0661
catalog number
1986.0661.04
86.0661.04
Credit Line
Fred K. Bryant
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
Transportation
Road Transportation
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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Comments

I see above the sign dimensions were 1 34" x 181'4" x 40" Were all the signs the same size?
The topic of Burma-Shave signs came up in conversation over breakfast this morning between my husband, age 93, and myself, age 91. Our memories, normally unreliable, were accurate on this topic. "He was right" "Dead right" "As he sped" "Along" "But he was" "Just as dead" "As if he were" "Wrong." We had a good laugh from this memory, a bright light in dark times.
Every three or four years, when I was a kid, my dad would drive the family across the country, from Virginia to Spokane, Washington to visit relatives. We always looked forward to seeing the Burma-Shave signs. They brought moments of levity and provided us with much enjoyment. This was in the 1940s and '50s.

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