If you mention fun signs to a senior, the first thing they're going to say is; Burma-Shave! Oh how we loved reading those bright red signs with white letters, while driving down the old two-lane highways. They broke the boredom of a long trip and proved to be the winning form of advertising for Burma-Shave, a new brushless shaving cream.
The idea came from Clinton Odell's son, Allan, and although Clinton thought it was a waste of money, he gave Allan $200 to buy scrap lumber to make the signs. The first signs went up around Minneapolis, Minn., in 1925. They didn't rhyme then, but just advertised the product and quite successfully. Then as they became more popular, they usually had a five-sign rhyme and then "Burma-Shave" on the sixth sign.
'My job is / Keeping faces clean / And nobody knows / De stubble / I've seen / Burma-Shave.'
Originally they were placed about 100 feet apart, but as the roads got better and cars traveled faster, they were moved farther apart. In less than a year, the company that was almost broke was making money like never before.
The signs were in almost every state and at their height of popularity, there were around 7,000 of them to entertain travelers. In 1963, Phillip Morris bought the company out and the signs disappeared from the roadsides, but never from our memories.
With today's freeways and much faster speeds traveled by our cars, only huge billboards can be read before you pass them. Still, we long for our old Burma-Shave signs and mourn their demise.
Nowadays, a lot of the warning signs that we see are really silly, but I guess necessary to protect the companies from frivolous lawsuits. A car comes sliding across an intersection on its top, "Don't attempt this" flashes on the TV screen. Some cars go flying off a curvy mountain road right into the ocean. Once again we are warned not to attempt this.
Anyone with an ounce of brains would know better than to try to do anything like that, but still the warnings keep coming. "A professional driver on a closed course" is also played for any car that is traveling at a fast speed for the ad.
Now there are some warning signs that I just love and laugh every time I think of them. Like the one in the fine art store: "Any unattended children will be given lots of candy and a puppy!" The warning sign on the wild animal park fence that boldly states: "No Trespassing! Trespassers Will Be Eaten!" "No Swimming In This Pond, Our Gators Are Fat Enough" at the alligator farm. Now who would want to swim there anyway?
I've seen this one in quite a few veterinarian waiting rooms: "Sit, Stay, The Doctor Will Be Right With You." We all know that our cat or dog can't read that sign, but just say the word "vet" and your animal will disappear faster than a bullet.
One of the most ridiculous warning signs I've ever seen was on my new hair curling iron. "Do Not Use When Sleeping." How in the world could someone use the curling iron when they're asleep? I really wanted to write to the company and ask them how that maneuver could be accomplished, but why waste a stamp?
It's kind of like the "Don't Pick Up Hitch Hikers In this Area" sign when the freeway goes past a federal prison.
Hello! Now really, how many people need to be told that?
A native of Minnesota, Carol Olson grew up in South Dakota and Walnut Creek and now lives in Pittsburg. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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