The Lighter Side of Burma

Burma (also known as Myanmar) has been in news of late, and for no good reason. If you read the last post, you’ll know why. It’s depressing, but then all the news of the last few weeks has been rather heavy.

Time to lighten things up.

Last year on this date, May 2nd, a significant event took place in Burma: Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy, was sworn in as a member of Pyithu Hluttaw, Burma’s lower house of the parliament. Also on this date, in 1942, Japanese troops occupied Mandalay Burma. Aung San, father of Aung San Suu Kyi, formed the Anti-Fascist Organisation which petitioned the United Kingdom to form a coalition with other Allies against the Japanese. The Allies were not able to drive out the Japanese until April 1945.

Unfortunately for me, I could not find the date that Burma Shave was formed, or when the first or last Burma Shave sign appeared. But chances are it wasn’t on May 2nd of any year. Too bad. It would have made for a somewhat smoother segue.

Credit: Outdoor Media Specialists

Burma-Shave was an American company that in 1925 introduced a brand of brush-less shaving cream. As an advertising gimmick, they began to post small sequential signs featuring humorous rhymes on America’s highways. If you’re from my generation, or older, you probably recall the Burma Shave signs.

I remember going on vacation trips as a family and how it always involved extremely long periods of driving. (“Are we there, yet?”) Since we started out in Kansas, there wasn’t much to look at while on the road. Kansas is not known for its mountain scenery or seaside vistas. So the Burma Shave signs were something to really look forward to:

The first signs went up in 1927. Essentially, they were to promote the Burma Shave product, like this jingle from 1930:

Modern man
Spreads it on
Pats it in
Shaves it off
See him grin

Early on thought, the writers of these signs saw an opportunity to offer some social commentary. Like this observation on domestic bliss, also from 1930:

Does your husband
Grunt and grumble
Rant and rave
Shoot the brute some

Starting in 1935, they began to offer road safety messages:

Train approaching
Whistle squealing
Avoid that run-down feeling

Jumping ahead quite a few years, here’s one I remember seeing:

Take it slow
Let the little
Shavers grow

Back in those golden days, a clean shaven face was essential for making it with the female race, as evidenced in this jingle from 1942 that incorporates a timely military theme:

“At ease,” she said
“Maneuvers begin
When you get
Those whiskers
Off your chin”

And just like the movies, during the war Burma Shave did its patriotic bit:

Buying defense bonds
Means money lent
So they
Don’t cost you
One red cent

Before Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert, there was Burma Shave:

That promise perfection
Are like
Some candidates
After election

The substitutes referred to here is any shaving lotion that wasn’t Burma Shave. When Phillip Morris bought Burma Shave in the 1960’s, the company’s lawyers advised them to discontinue the signs. Evidently, and ironically, they were a safety hazard. It was a damn shame. Damn lawyers.

Finally, here is one last piece of sagely adage that even the Buddha himself couldn’t have said better :

If harmony
Is what
You crave
Then get
A tuba




4 thoughts on “The Lighter Side of Burma

  1. I remember the signs from family vacation trips across Kansas and points west when I was little, and I remember watching them slowly disappear. Eventually, seeing Burma-Shave signs became a cause for celebration and nostalgia. I keep hoping to see some on some “blue highway” in Colorado or Missouri or somewhere….

    1. “Blue Highway” is a cool song by a woman named Angela Strehli, and the Everly Brothers sang a song called “Burma Shave” about “little red bow-legged signs up & down the line” . . . Just thought I’d throw that in.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.