Road Safety Education Burma-Shave Style: Part 3: The End of the Road

In the second post in this series, we saw that, as the US become a nation on wheels,Burma-shave sign Burma-Shave signs sprang up along roads everywhere.  But the campaign was not to last. America had changed a great deal by the mid-century mark, and neither motoring nor advertising were immune to progress.

Almost every state in America had some Burma-Shave signs along its highways by the 1950s, providing a moment of diversion on long drives through miles of sometimes-repetitive scenery. Some still warned of the hazards of a stubbly chin, while others kept the public aware of the many dangers on the road, particularly the hazards of speeding ….

burma-shave-curve

… or passing without proper visibility:

burma-shave-dontpass

There were other warnings too, against inattention at railroad crossings, and of course, drunk driving, which had yet to acquire a social stigma, and was thus frighteningly common.

burma-shave-ambulance

By the mid-1960s Burma-Shave had wrapped up its famous campaign. The company changed hands, and the signs began to disappear, many into the hands of souvenir collectors. Drivers would no longer be entertained (and reminded of the fate of drunk drivers) by messages like:

burma-shave-gates
What changed was not the need for anti-drunk-driving messages, but America’s highways themselves. With the Interstate system roads had become bigger, faster and more crowded, and reading small signs by the shoulder was getting difficult – even dangerous.

The Burma-Shave signs were never a systematic method of driver education, just an inspired advertising campaign that happened to relate worthwhile public safety messages in an amusing way. But for many motorists those old signs were a reminder – sometimes their only reminder – of the benefits not just of a smooth chin but of safe and sober driving.

burma-shave-roses

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series:

← Part 1: A New Traveling Companion
← Part 2: The Campaign Picks Up Speed