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July 24, 2004

Feeling nostalgic?

One thing that I really like about being a member of the "longears" community is that it is continually entertaining.

I have been trying to decide what to do with the right side of the Longears Mall Home Page and so I asked my Dad. He is never at a loss for ideas.

The left side, "News and Articles", is designed using RSS so that it will automatically pick up the headings from articles that are written for the "News and Articles" section of the Longears Mall. The right side was undeveloped frontier -- too good to be wasted.

burma-shave.jpgMy Dad grew up as a child of the 50's and 60's and immediately said, "You could put a bunch of Burma-Shave signs down the right side until you decide what to put there." Since I am only 23, and missed out on the Burma-Shave age, he proceeded to tell me all about how he and his brothers would watch for Burma-Shave signs every time their family went on trips.

For those of us that are too young to remember, the Burma-Shave story is a fascinating one.

A company near bankruptcy
Clinton Odell developed a brushless shaving cream which he called Burma-Shave. At a time when folks were really starting to travel America by automobile, the brushless shave cream eliminated the problem of packing a wet shaving brush and cup. Odell had an excellent product; all he lacked was a marketing plan. What was about to happen, is one of America's most successful advertising plans ever!

burma-shave-map.jpgAllan Odell, one of three sons, convinced his father to spend $200 for some materials to construct highway signs. In 1926, using recycled lumber, Allan fabricated the first Burma-Shave verses, and erected one set of signs along Route 35, between Albert Lea and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Within weeks, drug stores began running out of Burma-Shave, and ordering more. The next year, Allan and his brother Leonard set up more signs, spreading across Minnesota and into Wisconsin, spending $25,000 that year on signs. Orders poured in, and sales for the year hit $68,000.

The Success
Although Allan wrote many of the early jingles himself, what made the sign campaign so successful is that ordinary folks were encouraged to write the jingles, and were awarded cash prizes up to $100. The family rejected any jingles which were even the slightest bit offensive. During WW II, homesick GI's would erect Burma-Shave lookalike signs in Alaska, Germany, and even Antarctica!

Eventually, about 7,000 sets of verses were posted along highways in 45 states. A sign crew with just 8 trucks maintained all the signs. The road men calling themselves "PHD's" (Post-Hole Diggers) changed the verses at least once a year and replaced any broken signs. Most farmers were more than willing to allow the signs to be erected on their land, for little more than a case of the product each year. The little Burma-Shave company grew to $3 million in annual sales.

The Demise
All good things come to an end. The Odell Family sold their company to Gillette, which in turn became part of American Safety Razor, and Phillip Morris. The huge conglomerate decided the verses were a silly idea, and that other types of advertising, especially television, would sell more product. By 1966, every last sign disappeared from America's highways. A very few ended up in museums.

Clinton Odell, founder of the company, died in 1958. Allan Odell, who came up with the sign idea, passed away in 1994, and his brother Leonard in 1991.

Pictures courtesy of the Eisner Museum. Story courtesy of Two-Lane.com.

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Have a wonderful weekend!

Kristie Jorgensen

Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at July 24, 2004 11:56 PM