To some baby boomers and most of the younger set of Americans with their I-pads, I-phones, Palms, Droids and X-boxes – Route 66 and Burma Shave are foreign, like another language. What are they and how do they relate to each other? Well, in a sense, it might be a different language to them since it’s called history and nostalgia. Nostalgia, because Route 66 was built in November, 1926 (FHWA.gov). The “father” of the highway was a fellow by the name of Cyrus Steven Avery from Tulsa, Oklahoma. The road stretched 2,448 miles (Historic66.com) from Chicago, Illinois, to Los Angeles, California, (Santa Monica) and earned the title of “The Mother Road” from John Steinbeck’s book “The Grapes of Wrath” and is colloquially known as the “Main Street of America”.
In 1925, Burma Shave was invented by a fellow named Clinton Odell. Mr. Odell’s father was a lawyer and a tinkerer and owned a company called Burma Vita, whose product was a liniment with ingredients from the Malay Peninsula and Burma (Myanmar). Clinton had built an insurance business but was told by his doctor, that he needed to do something less stressful. Since sales were not very exciting with his father’s liniment business, he decided to add something to the product line that would stimulate sales. With the help of a chemist friend, he used the liniment to develop a brushless shaving cream that he would call Burma Shave, but sales and marketing of the product became a dilemma.
With the advent of the new Route 66, what better place to advertize your wares than signs on the brand new highway that would become the “Most famous road in America” and stretched across most of the U.S. Odell’s two sons decided that working with farmers and land owners, they would put up sequential signs that would be seen by thousands of motorists traveling to and from Chicago and Los Angeles and cities in between. Sales skyrocketed and Burma Shave became the second highest selling shaving cream in the U.S.
With the thought of entertaining motorists and their families while at the same time advertising the product, signs such as this appeared in sequential order:
PITY ALL – THE MIGHTY CAESARS – THEY PULLED – THEIR WHISKERS – OUT WITH TWEEZERS … BURMA SHAVE.
Of course, these signs were seen on just about every highway in almost every state from the 1920s to the 1960s. As traffic increased on the new roads, the brothers thought they should do their part for driver safety so signs such as this began to appear:
DON’T TAKE – A CURVE – AT 60 PER – WE HATE TO LOSE – A CUSTOMER … BURMA SHAVE.
I hope the youth of today with their high speed, high-tech, state-of- the art, technologically advanced, information highway will take time to look back at one of the most important events in U.S. history: The marriage of U.S. Route 66 and Burma Shave.
See ya’ at the races.
Additional source: The Verse By The Side Of The Road