More than 20 people listened to a presentation on the roadside advertising by Burma-Shave in the 1920s through 1960s, delivered by James Jensen of the Mason County Historical Society at the Ludington Area Senior Center Wednesday morning.
Jensen stopped in for the presentation, and he and the historical society plan to give other presentations on the second Wednesday of the month in February, March and April.
Jensen said he saw the advertising along old U.S. 31, or what is now Pere Marquette Highway in Mason County and Oceana Drive in Oceana County, on his way to Muskegon.
“They were all over the country. What you did was you drove along. This was one of the first advertising directed toward automobiles,” Jensen said. “You drove along, and read the first sign. … You’d get to the next one and read it. You’d keep going and read the next one.”
Jensen’s presentation included several jokes and anecdotes, some examples of the Burma-Shave advertising that dotted the two-lane highways of that era through those decades and some of the makes and models of automobiles that were on the roads in those decades.
His presentation was based in part on a pair of books on Burma-Shave and the advertising. It started off with Clinton Odell, an attorney and owner of Burma-Vita company.
The shaving cream, and the safety razor, allowed for people to not make a lather for soap and a straight razor, Jensen said. Burma-Shave worked to capitalize on the new motoring public in the 1920s to promote the signs. Jensen discussed it, and the makes and models of the early cars in those early days.
Themes in the advertising were discussed, starting out with convenience, comfort and humor and evolving to fighting off competitors and even a contest.
Jensen’s presentation was met with discussion of some of the cars shown and chuckles and laughs as the recreated signs flashed by. Jensen displayed photos he shot at Dick’s Classic Garage, a museum in San Marcos, Texas.
Discussion of the signs in Mason County yielded that one set was on U.S. 10 near Scottville, and Jensen said he was told another set was near the bayou along Pere Marquette Highway in Pere Marquette Township.
“The farmers got $100 to $150, or some big money, so the farmers were very willing to do this. They didn’t get in the way very much. They just got these signs, and they didn’t have to put them in,” Jensen said.
He said he remembered either two or three sets of the signs along old U.S. 31 to and from Muskegon in the 1950s, but he couldn’t recall where.
The signs fell out of favor, though, for a variety of reasons, Jensen said; one of those reasons was the opening of freeways and interstate highways, and another was the cost of the signs.
The next presentation is regarding the Rev. John Christensen, Jensen said. Once May rolls in, the historical society will be opening its attractions and its research center downtown.
“I’ll tell you some things about Rev. John Christensen you never knew,” he said.