“Past – the school houses – take it slow – let the little – shavers grow – Burma Shave” Most of today’s generation have never even heard of Burma-Shave, but ask anyone who lived from the 1920s to the early 1960s, and you will mostly likely bring up a few memories and tales from that vintage era.

Burma-Shave was a brand of brushless shaving cream that was sold from 1925 to 1966.  The company was notable for its innovative advertising campaign, which included rhymes posted along the nation’s roadways.  Typically, six signs were erected, the first five containing a line of verse, and the sixth displaying the brand name as motorists would entertain themselves driving at 35 mph trying to figure out the jingles as they drove.

I really don’t know why I thought about those old Burma Shave signs, but as one thought frequently leads to another I started thinking about other iconic signs and billboards that are uniquely American.

So in keeping with my notion of keeping it on the lighter side (at least in the Vail Daily) until the current crisis abates, I thought we might take a whimsical journey from New York to LA and look at a few of America’s most iconic signs.

  • Even in a city bursting with bright neon lights the sign for NYC’s Radio City Music Hall stands out. The huge neon lights are iconic and eye-catching yet the sign remains uniquely elegant.  Built during the Great Depression, this sign beckons the visitor into the largest indoor theater in the world.
  • More of a building than a sign, the Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand in Coney Island is an eye-catching symbol of Americana. First opened in 1916 by Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker it didn’t take long for Nathan’s Famous hot dogs to spread across the nation, being introduced into grocery stores, fed to English royalty, and even becoming the official hot dog of Major League Baseball.
  • The giant neon “Chicago” sign that dominates State Street in the Windy City is six stories high and one of the tallest signsin existence.  The sign is attached to the front of the Chicago Theatre with its beautiful French Baroque facade and iconic interior.  Built in 1921, the front of the building features a six-story tall replica of the Arc de Triomphe surrounded by two invitingly illuminated signs for this timeless theatre.
  • At 105 years old, Wrigley Field is one of the nation’s oldest Major League Baseball parks. Its iconic red Wrigley Field sign was added in 1934, a number of years after the park opened, and has been Mecca for Cubs fans for decades.  And speaking of Cub fans, here’s a bit Cub trivia.  The ballpark wasn’t always known as Wrigley Field, when it was first built, the park was named Weeghman Park after its owner; it didn’t become Wrigley Field until 1927 when chewing gum magnate William Wrigley purchased the team.
  • Route 66 isn’t a single sign, but rather it’s a series of signs first erected in the early 20th century. At the time, Route 66 was vitally important in connecting the lower central U.S.  A pure symbol of Americana, Route 66 is featured in countless films songs and books including John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.
  • Even if you’ve never set foot in Nevada, odds are you’ve seen the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign in countless movies and TV shows. This vivid red, white, and blue sign is part of the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The Randy’s Donuts sign in Los Angeles (the enormous donut perched atop a modest little donut shop) is in many ways a metaphor for LA itself. This iconic landmark has been around since the early 1950s.  While it’s frequently seen on TV and in the movies, fans of the Simpsons will recognize it as sitting atop Homer’s favorite donut shop.
  • There are few signs more quintessentially American or more recognizable than the Hollywood Sign in the Santa Monica Mountains overlooking the city. Interestingly, the 45-foot tall letters weren’t originally connected to the movies at all.  When first erected in 1923, the sign read “Hollywoodland” and was an advertisement for a local development company.

So how many of these iconic bits of Americana have you seen; and is there a favorite billboard or sign you feel should be on the list?

Quote of the day:  “Shaving brushes – are out of date – use the razor’s – perfect mate, Burma Shave.”










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