Perhaps not strictly famous but certainly notable was St. Louis Park resident Carl Noren. He was known by his neighbors (he lived at 2925 Raleigh) as the “man who invented Burma-Shave.”
The Burma Vita Company, started by Clinton Odell in the 1920s, at first made liniment, but wanted to expand. Carl Noren was hired to create a brushless shaving cream. After trying close to 300 different combinations, he found some old Formula 143 left in a jar. They tried it and got a terrific shave from it. That’s how he discovered that if you aged old 143 for two or three months, you got a fine shave from it.
The company was first located in an old building at 2019 E. Lake Street, built in 1892.
In 2016 Steve Brandt of the Star Tribune reported that the building was approved for demolition, despite the pleas for preservation. Demonstrators even put up their own signs:
On this spot
In old times
They made shaving cream
And funny signs.
Don’t be fooled by
White vinyl siding
Behind these walls
There’s history hiding.
In 1940 the company moved to a new building in Bryn Mawr overlooking Bassett Creek.
In 1925 the Burma-Shave sign campaign was started by Odell’s son Allan, and was wildly successful. At their height of popularity there were 7,000 Burma-Shave signs stretching across 44 states. The white on red signs were grouped by four, fives and sixes. You’d read first one, then another, with the punch line on number five and the familiar Burma-Shave on the sixth.
Sales went from “virtually nothing” to $68,000 by the end of the first year. The campaign lasted until 1963, when the Odell family sold the company to Phillip Morris and the signs came down. Part of the downfall of the signs was Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 Highway Beautification Act.
Clinton Odell died in 1958, and his son Allan died in 1994. Philip Morris sold the Burma-Shave brand to the American Safety Razor Company in 1968 and the name went dormant, but was reintroduced in 1997. Although the original Burma-Shave was a brushless shaving cream, the name is currently a soap and shaving brush set.
Carl Noren and his wife Ethel may have been the first owners of their house on Raleigh, which was built in 1942. In 1949 Carl is listed in the Village directory as the Superintendent and Chemist for the company. In 1962 Carl is listed alone, with the Burma Vita Co. as his workplace.
Carl died in June 1966 at age 76, but his neighbors still remember the many Burma-Shave signs he kept in his garage. Oh, what they would be worth today!