Burma Shave Revisited

September 21, 2017

This is the first road sign for Wall Drug I spotted on our way to The Badlands.

Then pretty soon there was another sign. A little furture another and another, until we couldn’t wait to see the next one. It instantly reminded me of the old Burma-Shave road side signs. Burma-Shave was a brand of shaving cream sold from 1925 to 1966. The company used an innovative advertising scheme which included rhymes posted all along the nation’s roadways. I remember seeing them as our rag-tag family of 5 kids and 2 dogs drove from one duty station to another moving to the next place my father was stationed in the Navy. And Burma-Shave was the first thing I thought of as we kept passing more Wall Drug road signs on our way from Rapid City, SD to The Badlands.

But the story about Wall Drug is an American success story. A young pharmacy graduate, Ted Hustled and his wife Dorothy and their young son Billy, moved to the small town (326 population) of Wall, SD and bought a drug store in 1931. The country as well as the town of Wall was in the midst of the depression. Everyone in Wall was poor. Business was bad but the Husteads vowed to hang on for 5 years.

Five years passed and business hadn’t improved, but one hot, slow July afternoon Dorothy left Ted in the store on his own, just swatting flys, keeping the doors open in the hope of some business while Dorothy laid down for a nap. She returned a short time later and remarked she couldn’t sleep because of the nearby road traffic on Route 16A. Dorothy said, “You know what Ted, I finally figured out how to get travelers to come in our store. What is it that people really want after driving across the hot prairie? They’re thirsty. They want water, ice-cold water! We’ve got plenty of water and plenty of ice”.

 Wall Drug also offers  veterans “free coffee & a donut”, same for honeymooners. And the present day price for a cup of coffee is 5c. 

They got busy making road signs to post along the way leading to and from Wall Drug offering free ice water. It worked! People came for the ice water, but they also bought the occasional ice cream cone, or something else on offer. By the next summer they had to hire eight girls to help them! The population in Wall today 766 and the little town is dominated by Wall Drug which has grown into a unique prairie mall of 76,000 sq. ft. where you can buy anything from ice cream, Western boots, camping equipment, quilts, leather goods, toys, clothing or their famous pie. 

On a good summer day with the help of all those road signs today, it’s not unusual to draw 20,000 people off highway to the famous WALL DRUG. Don’t miss it if you ever get the chance.

Aloha, Mikie ~just a blogger (fightin’ like a girl)

~Psst, tired of politics? Check out Travel in the Categories drop down menu (right side panel) for my blogs posted from interesting locations during my travel adventures.

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