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File:Burmashave 390.jpg

Reading Tropes

'Til you're addicted

Don't be shocked

If you're evicted

Burma Shave

During the early part of the 20th century, a shaving cream manufacturer got an idea for Advertising its new product: They put five-line poems, one line at a time, on various highways, such that each line was just short enough to read while driving along. The fifth line was always the product name: Burma Shave. There were hundreds of different jingles, plus thousands made up by customers. The vast majority of the jingles probably insinuated questionable or obscene uses of the product.

A lot of the rhymes have passed through time so much that many people today won't get them. The following would have been a Shout-Out to Smith Brothers Cough Drops, which showed two bearded men on the box:

While we've shaved

Six million others

We still can't shave

Those Coughdrop Brothers
Burma Shave

When Burma Shave came out, the idea of using a special cream (rather than soap) was a new idea, so the company needed a new way to get noticed. Thus became the original use of what would later be referred to as "the jingle": a short, catchy tune to remind you of the company's product--only Burma Shave's ads were simply silent poems.

Please don't drive

At 60 per

We don't want to lose

A customer
Burma Shave

This advertising development, combined with faster travel on major highways, later led other advertisers to develop the Billboard, a large advertisement carrying an image and a small amount of text.

Don't stick your elbow

Out so far

It might go home

In another car
Burma Shave

Alas, Burma Shave's cute message became a victim of technology -- better shaving products came out and cars got faster, making it harder to read the signs -- as well as government regulation, as the taxes on their advertising signs became prohibitive. So Burma Shave's ads fade off to that great advertising road in the sky, along with television commercials for cigarettes and such mascots as Speedy Alka-Seltzer, the Hamms Beer Bear and Joe Camel.

The Other Wiki has an article here.

The story of the campaign's creation and life -- along with a generous selection of the verses -- can be found in the book The Verse by the Side of the Road : The Story of the Burma-Shave Signs and Jingles, by Frank Rowsome Jr.


Tropes used in Burma Shave include:
  • Literal Genie/The Cake Is Not A Lie: Detailed here -- one series of signs read "Free Free/A Trip/To Mars/For 900/Empty Jars". Arliss French, a supermarket manager in Wisconsin, took them up on their challenge, and thanks to a series of ads in the local paper and displays in his store, he succeeded in gathering the required number of containers. After some negotiations, the company presented him with tickets to Moers (pronounced "Mars"), a small town in West Germany. Mr. French got a free European vacation, and Burma Shave got tons of positive publicity.
  • Racing the Train: Several safety jingles point out what a bad idea this is.
  • Shout-Out: One of them was this to Smith Brothers Cough Drop
  • What Could Have Been: There are some signs that were considered to be used but for whatever reason never did.

Works that have referenced the Burma-Shave advertisements:

 Before they send us

To the grave

Alien beasts use

Burma Shave

  • The Everly Brothers did a song about the adverts called, of course, "Burma Shave".
  • A lot of British readers were first introduced to the adverts by Bill Bryson's books about America.
  • Kingdom of Loathing has a spirit speaking in rhyme, ending its Fetch Quest request with a Burma Shave.
  • The House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin has a large collection of these somewhere inside.
  • During Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing, when Matthew Cable gets into a car crash while drunk, it's near a suitably ironic Burma Shave ad:

 The night can make

A man more brave

But not more sober

Burma Shave

 Do not turn back

Go on instead

Your friend the moose

Is just ahead

Boris-Shave

  • "Burma Shave" is the title of a Tom Waits song telling the tale of two urban runaways searching for someplace to escape to. The verses are set up to always end on name the titular product, as if tracking their progress down the lonely highways. It doesn't turn out well.
  • In the movie The World's Fastest Indian there is a sequence where Burt and the air force pilot he's travelling with read aloud the Burma Shave poems they pass, showing the distance they cover.
  • Sam encounters a Burma Shave ad in the Quantum Leap pilot.
  • Hee Haw occasionally presented gags in the form of Burma Shave signs -- filmed out the window of a slowly-moving car for that genuine experience.
  • Gaia Online's online RPG zOMG! has a series of trash cans in the Bassken Lake area with lines written on them. Put together, the lines say:

 To kiss a mug

That's like a cactus

Takes more nerve

Than it does practice.

Burpa-Shave

  • Real Life: Commuters who walk from the 1, 2, 3 train station to the A, C, E train station at Times Square in New York City has a Burma Shave inspired poem called The Commuter's Lament that hangs on the ceiling of the underpass:

 Overslept,

So tired.

If late,

Get fired.

Why bother?

Why the pain?

Just go home

Do it again.

(Picture of a bed with two pillows)

  • One of the video games for the Tandy Color Computer system emblazoned with the Game Over screen with a short poem:

Ashes to ashes

Dust to dust

Your game is over

Replay if you must
—Burma Shave
  • Humor columnist Lewis Grizzard wrote an article about Rosie Ruiz, who been declared the winner in the female category for the 84th Boston Marathon in 1980, until it was discovered that she had cheated by slipping into the pack shortly before the finish line. He suggested several methods to prevent this, including a series of these signs that the competitors would have to memorize and recite after the race. For example:

Here sits Rosie

Brokenhearted

She finished fine

But she never started
—Burma Shave
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