Burma Shave Signs:
The History of the Straight Razor

I first became acquainted with BURMA SHAVE signs when I was about 10 or 12. That would have been 1936-1938, but I'm sure they were in existence several years before that.

Keep in mind that back in those days, most men shaved with a straight razor. For you young people uninitiated in the "goings on" of the 1930s, the straight razor was a very sharp-bladed instrument that folded up into a handle when not in use.


Straight Razor Basics

straight razor, burma shave signs

One sharpened the blade of a straight razor with a very heavy leather strap, which was about 4 inches wide and quite long. It was quite an effective way to sharpen a straight razor, and believe it or not, this rather dangerous-looking instrument did a pretty good job.

I'm not sure if the man of the house shaved daily or not. I doubt it. It usually depended on the amount of stubble that had grown.


Shaving Aids

Available to aid the gentleman, who had to at least attempt grooming, were maybe three basic types of shaving aids.

Shaving soap, which was put in a cup (like a coffee cup) and was sold as a cake - or a cake in a cup. One moistened the soap cake, wet a shaving brush, and proceeded to work up a lather. This lather was applied to his face, and the more lather the better. Of course, warm water aided in the process and comfort. Then the straight razor was employed to finish the job.


Types of Shaving Cream

NOW, where did BURMA SHAVE SIGNS come into our picture?

Well, the other two methods of shaving involved different brands of shaving cream, usually available in tube or jar. There were two types: brush and brushless. The brush-type cream involved hot water and a shaving brush, like the first method, and was perhaps the most comfortable of the cream methods.

The brushless cream was to be rubbed in thoroughly to the face (and neck, if one were brave enough). The hottest water one could stand was employed for both methods of cream and for the shaving soap also.

(I hope the ladies appreciate the lengths to which we went to become presentable!)


Shaving Cream Brands

There were several brands of these now antiquated creams and soaps available, and they were well represented on grocery and drug store shelves (We did not call drug stores by the name PHARMACY then - that came much later).

I am certain that BURMA-SHAVE was the most highly advertised shave cream in existence at that time, and the company used a very novel approach for those days. The BURMA SHAVE signs were placed along highway berms so they wouldn't be knocked over by vehicles.

To read some examples of Burma Shave slogans, click here.





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