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Sundin column: Rhymes by the side of the road

Hal Sundin
As I See It

You have to be at least 62 years old to remember seeing this unique advertising technique. It was started in 1927, when highway lanes were only 10 feet wide (8 feet in some places), with tight curves and more grade-undulating, and traffic typically moved at 35-45 miles per hour (seldom over 50 mph).

Gasoline was hand-pumped into an elevated calibrated glass tank from which it flowed by gravity into your automobile’s gas tank. At the time, Clinton Odell (son of founder Leonard Odell), was president of Burma-Vita Co., a Minneapolis liniment company, a not-very-successful enterprise. His wholesaler suggested that he look for something many people would use all the time.

In 1924 he learned of a brushless shaving cream that was being made in England, and he hired a chemist to develop one for him. After numerous failures, he developed Formula 143 — a product that was stable but ineffective, and they continued the unsuccessful search for an effective brushless shaving cream.



Quite by accident, they discovered that an old container of Formula 143, that had aged for two or three months, was exactly what they had been looking for, and it became Burma-Shave. To market it they unsuccessfully offered it on approval, “Take a free container and pay for it if you like it.”

After noticing some signs along a highway directing drivers to a service station, Clinton got the idea of using roadside signs to advertise Burma-Shave. So near Minneapolis, he put up three sets of six signs 30-60 feet apart (the last reading Burma-Shave), that people could read in a few seconds.

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Advertising men warned that it wouldn’t work. At first there was no rhyming — merely a message advertising Burma Shave. But Clinton and his brother, Allan, soon started rhyming and incorporating humor, and people grew addicted to a degree that few advertisers have ever achieved. Sales mushroomed to $3 million per year, a sizable figure in the depression years.

Within a few years, the chore of coming up with new rhymes convinced the brothers to launch a well-advertised contest offering $100 for each accepted entry. Entries poured in by the thousands, as many as 50,000 each year. They had to hire women to screen and reduce them to 1,000 from which the board of directors selected 12 to 25 winners. They also started including highway safety messages as a public service.

As the years went by, highway improvements resulted in faster driving speeds, and it became necessary to increase the size of the signs from the standard 10-foot-by-30-foot and to double the spacing and place them farther from the edge of the pavement, making them harder to read.

The resulting reduced effectiveness, increased maintenance costs and Philip Morris’ purchase of the company led the brothers to the decision in 1963 to remove the signs — the end of a unique experiment. Here are a few of the more than 500 rhymes:

IT’S NOT TOASTED, ITS NOT DATED, BUT LOOK OUT, IT’S IMITATED.

A SILKY CHEEK, SMOOTH AND CLEAN, IS NOT OBTAINED WITH A MOWING MACHINE.

REMEMBER THIS: IF YOU’D BE SPARED: TRAINS DON’T WHISTLE BECAUSE THEY’RE SCARED.

DON’T TAKE A CURVE AT 60 PER. WE HATE TO LOSE A CUSTOMER.

HARDLY A DRIVER IS NOW ALIVE, WHO PASSED ON HILLS AT 75.

AT CROSSROADS DON’T JUST TRUST TO LUCK: THE OTHER CAR MAY BE A TRUCK.

HIS FACE WAS LOVED BY JUST HIS MOTHER. HE BURMA-SHAVED, AND NOW — OH BROTHER! NO LADY LIKES TO DANCE OR DINE ESCORTED BY A PORCUPINE.

WITH GLAMOR GIRLS YOU’LL NEVER CLICK BEWHISKERED LIKE A BOLSHEVIK.

SHE KISSED THE HAIR-BRUSH BY MISTAKE. SHE THOUGHT IT WAS HER HUSBAND JAKE.

SPECIAL SEATS RESERVED IN HADES FOR WHISKERED GENTS WHO SCRATCH THE LADIES.

DON’T STICK YOUR ELBOW OUT SO FAR. IT MIGHT GO HOME IN ANOTHER CAR.

DON’T LOSE YOUR HEAD TO SAVE A MINUTE. YOU NEED YOUR HEAD. YOUR BRAINS ARE IN IT.

HE HAD THE RING, HE HAD THE FLAT, BUT SHE FELT HIS CHIN AND THAT WAS THAT.

A PEACH LOOKS GOOD WITH LOTS OF FUZZ, BUT MAN’S NO PEACH AND NEVER WUZ.

THE ANSWER TO A MAIDEN’S PRAYER IS NOT A CHIN OF STUBBY HAIR.

AT INTERSECTIONS LOOK EACH WAY. A HARP SOUNDS NICE BUT IT’S HARD TO PLAY.

BEFORE I TRIED IT THE KISSES I MISSED, BUT AFTERWARD – BOY! THE MISSES I KISSED.

HENRY THE EIGHTH KING OF FRISKERS LOST FIVE WIVES BUT KEPT HIS WHISKERS. THE CHICK HE WED LET OUT A WHOOP, TELT HIS CHIN AND FLEW THE COOP.

“As I See It” appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at americron@comcast.net.


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