History at its Best

And where the City of Social Circle fits into it

The initial column was published on Monroe Local News in 2016. Since then, Social Circle’s beloved Burma Shave Signs were vandalized in early July 2019. Most of the broken bits and pieces of the signs were recovered but, sadly, they were beyond repair. The fact that the signs had been destroyed quickly became a hot topic of discussion on the local Facebook pages and around the tables in the city’s dining venues. Folks were saddened that the signs had been vandalized and could not understand why anyone would choose to destroy the treasured icons. The signs were sorely missed in the Social Circle community and various suggestions were offered on how to best secure funding for replacement of the signs. Over dinner one evening, the subject of the lost signs became a topic of conversation between ( Mayor) David and Penny Keener and a certain benevolent resident of Social Circle – one who prefers to remain anonymous. After learning the historical and sentimental value of the Burma Shave Signs, this gentleman indicated a strong interest in facilitating the replacement of the signs. His desire was to anonymously provide the necessary funding to purchase replacement signs for the City. There were some delays along the way but, thanks to the generosity of one of our own, I am happy to report that the Burma Shave Signs have been replaced and stand proudly on the W. Hightower Trail approach into the City of Social Circle.

Replaced Burma Shave signs in Social Circle. Contributed photo

Initial column

Before the turn of the century, men and possibly women made shaving cream by putting soap in a mug, adding a little water and whipping it up with a short thick stocky brush. Then in 1925, Clinton Odell invented a “modern day miracle,” shaving cream in a can. Odell named his new product, Burma-Shave. The company’s original product was a liniment made of ingredients described as having come “from the Malay Peninsula and Burma” and used signs along the roadways to advertise his new product. These advertisements could be seen across the United States, along country roads and highways, often bringing laughter to the young and old as they read the funny little sayings on each set they came across.  The signs were made in sets of five and spaced out along the road, they quoted catchy little riddles, the first four spelling out the riddle with the last saying “Burma-Shave.” This was a great new advertising gimmick which helped Odell to sell his product.  Eventually the Burma-Shave company was sold and the signs were taken down, only to become another casualty of a part of history now long gone. 

But is it?

Reminisce Magazine, a magazine that “brought back the good old times”, thought it would be fun to renew the history that made so many people smile as the signs were read so many years ago.  The magazine announced their plan to erect one set of signs in each of the fifty states.  These new signs would also be in sets of five, just as they were for Burma-Shave, with the last one reading “Reminisce Magazine” (now Burma-Shave).  An article was run in their magazine asking for nominations from cities across the country declaring theirs to be the perfect place to host these signs. They also asked for catchy rhymes to be submitted along with the nominations.  
Mr. Gene Ensminger saw the ad and contacted then mayor of Social Circle Frank Sherrill.  The project was explained and each wrote a letter to the magazine describing Social Circle, its attributes and its historical significance. After several weeks of waiting, Social Circle was honored by Reminisce Magazine as the only city in the state of Georgia to receive these signs.  The next step was to find a location suited to this type of display.  the site, Jersey/Social Circle Road, was agreed upon and the signs were placed in position in October 1995.  Undoubtedly you have seen these as you enter Social Circle from Jersey and have wondered where they came from and how they came to be. 

Don’t try passing

On a Slope

Unless you have

a Periscope


History (from Wikipedia)

The war years found the company recycling a lot of their old signs, with the new ones mostly focusing on World War II propaganda:
Let’s make Hitler / And Hirohito / Feel as bad / as Old Benito / Buy War Bonds / Burma-Shave

Throughout the years, especially in the 1950’s, many catchy phrases were seen across the country.  As an example,the final episode of the popular TV series M*A*S*H featured a series of road signs in Korea “Hawk was gone, now he’s here. Dance till dawn, give a cheer.  Burma-Shave.

In popular culture
A number of movies and television shows set between the 1920’s and ‘50s have used the Burma-Shave roadside billboards to help set the scene.  Examples include Bonnie and Clyde, A River Runs Through It, The World’s Fastest Indian, Stand By Me, Tom and Jerry, and the pilot episode (“Genesis”) of Quantum Leap.

Special promotional messages
Free offer!  Free Offer! / Rip a fender off your car / mail it in / for a half-pound jar / Burma-Shave   * A large number of fenders were received by the company, which made good on its promise. 

Free – free / a trip to Mars / for 900 / empty jars / Burma-Shave  *  One respondent, Arlyss French, who was the owner of a Red Owl grocery store, did submit  900 empty jars: the company replied:  “If a trip to Mars / you earn / remember, friend / there’s no return.” 

The company, on the recommendation of Red Owl’s publicity team, sent him on a vacation to the town of Moers (pronounced “Mars” by foreigners) near Duisburg, Germany

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