Monday, May 6, 2013

Allan G. Odell wrote Burma-Shave rhymes

Burma-Shave signs on U.S. Route 66 in Mohave County, Arizona | Photo by Ken Koehler
 It is the birthday of shaving cream executive Allan G. Odell (1904), who wrote the Burma-Shave rhymes that entertained travelers on America's highways for four decades. Odell was just out of college in 1925 when he joined his father's patent medicine company in Minnesota. Sales were sagging and Odell came up with the idea to advertise the company's brushless shaving cream product. He convinced his father, Clinton, to spend $200 on signs. He bought wood from a reclaimed lumber company to make the first signs, which were hand-stenciled. The first signs were placed 100 feet apart on straight stretches of U.S. 61 and U.S. 65 near Red Wing and Alert Lea, Minnesota. Each group ended with the Burma-Shave logo. Sales soared and the campaign was expanded. By the 1950s, there were 7,000 sets of signs in 45 states. The signs were discontinued after Odell, who eventually became president, retired, and the company was sold to Phillip Morris in 1964. Here are a few of the witty rhymes:

* Is he lonesome or just blind, the guy who drives so close behind?
* Better try less speed per mile. That car may have to last a while.
* Five star generals, privates first class look the same in a looking glass
* Spring has come, the grass has ris' where last year's careless drivers is.
* If Crusoe'd kept more tidy his chin, he might have found a lady again.
* She put a bullet through his hat, but he's had closer shaves than that.
* Substitutes are like a girdle; they find some jobs they just can't hurdle.
* These signs are not for laughs alone. The face they shave may be your own.

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