The Verse By The Side Of The Road

PrintPrintEmailEmail

Perhaps the all-time classic among boy-girl jingles, however, was a compact and metrically memorable verse from 1934. For reasons beyond easy analysis, it appears to have become engraved on the collective American memory: HE HAD THE RING / HE HAD THE FLAT / BUT SHE FELT HIS CHIN / AND THAT / WAS THAT .

The great years for the Burma-Shave road signs were in the 1930’s and late 1940’s, with almost 7,000 sets of jingles scattered across the United States. The company, grossing more than $3,000,000 a year, included a proud cock-a-doodle-doo among its 1947 sign crop: ALTHO / WE’VE SOLD / SIX MILLION OTHERS / WE STILL CAN’T SELL / THOSE COUGH-DROP BROTHERS .

But by the late 1950’s it had grown evident that the magic was draining from the sprightly little red road signs. Increased car speeds, broad superhighways, and the impossibility of reaching important urban and suburban markets with rural road signs were all factors. The company regretfully began to experiment with TV advertising, and gradually the signs were removed.

But they are not altogether lost to history. Hearing of their discontinuance, the Smithsonian Institution applied to Allan and Leonard Odell (their father had died in 1958) for a set to preserve in its cultural-history section. After some thought the brothers presented the Smithsonian with this set: WITHIN THIS VALE / OF TOIL / AND SIN / YOUR HEAD GROWS BALD / BUT NOT YOUR CHIN / BURMA-SHAVE .