Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Learning | Burma-Shave, Part 2

My introductory Burma-Shave post last week barely touched on the discussions we have had on the subject at Troke.  

My co-worker, Ginny, asked the same question that occurred to me, when I received The Verse By the Side of the Road: the Story of the Burma-Shave Signs and Jingles through the Link+ program.  We both wondered how the shaving cream got the name Burma-Shave. In short, "Why Burma?"

My father (the co-pilot, back row, furthest left) and
his fellow crew members from the 40th Bombardment Group.
The aircraft behind them is "The Song of India,"
the B-29 they flew on missions from Tinian over "The Hump."
Burma (or Myanmar, as is it currently known) is a mountainous country located on the eastern shore of the Bay of Bengal.  Its northern border touches Bangladesh, India and China; its southern region reaches Thailand and the Malay Peninsula.

Trivia question

Name the television series that is the source of the following dialogue:

"Why'd you say 'Burma?'"
"I panicked."

See the answer at the bottom of this post.

Ginny and both have fathers who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during the Second World War, in the China/India/Burma theater. They were both stationed on the island of Tinian. (Small world, isn't it?) Perhaps we're more inclined to ask,"Why Burma?" than the average person.

Clinton Odell, the founder of the Burma-Vita company in Minnesota first invented a liniment which was supposed to have a number of health benefits. It was mostly comprised of ingredients from Burma and the Malay Peninsula, so he called it Burma-Vita. It is reported to have smelled terrible, which may have been one reason why it never became a commercial success.  

Mr. Odell was inspired by a brushless shaving product he saw in England, called Lloyd's Euxesis; he hired a chemist to develop a similar product, which he named Burma-Shave. (I couldn't help but to look up the origin of the name Euxesis; it comes from the Greek root eu- [good] and -xesis [to scrape] it's all about shaving well.)

Burma-Shave did not sell very well until Mr. Odell's sons started advertising the product on roadside signs. The first signs were placed 100 paces apart, but those distances grew as people began driving cars faster.  The publicity generated by those roadside signs can still be felt today--most people familiar with the name Burma-Shave immediately think of those signs; and conversely, when people see a sequence of rhyming signs by the road, they think of Burma-Shave.

Answer to the trivia question:

Monty Python's Flying Circus, Series 2.  It was part of the Exploding Penguin on the TV Set sketch from Episode 22, "How To Recognize Different Parts of the Body.". Graham Chapman exclaimed "BURMA!" after John Cleese speculated about where the penguin came from, "Penguins don't come from next door; they come from the Antarctic."

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