How Burma Shave sent Frenchie to Mars

In the year of nineteen hundred and fifty-eight, the Burma Shave corporation added this jingle to its beloved roadside sign displays: ""Free Free / A Trip / to Mars / for 900 / Empty Jars." Unwisely, they made no preparations to send anyone to Mars, should the 900 jars materialize.

They hadn't bargained on Arliss "Frenchie" French of Appleton, WI, manager of the town's Red Owl Supermarket. Frenchie posted a sign in his store offering $0.15 for every Burma Shave jar his customers brought in:

He ran a full-page ad in the paper reading, "Send Frenchie to Mars." As the empties accumulated in his store, he telegraphed the company, "Please advise where to ship the jars."

The folks at Burma Shave scrambled to avoid embarrassment. Thinking he would decline, they offered to send him to the village of Moers, Germany (which they insisted was pronounced, "Mars") if he would wear a space suit for the trip. He agreed.

French and his wife departed New York at the company's expense on Dec. 2, 1958. He wore a football helmet and a silver costume emblazoned with the Red Owl logo. When he arrived in Moers two days later, all 78 residents turned out to greet him.

Odd Wisconsin: Appleton man rode advertising gimmick all the way to Mars (Germany) (via Neatorama)


  1. I got referred to this site, and this article makes no sense to me. I think I’m in the wrong demographic?

    1. I got referred to this site, and this article makes no sense to me. I think I’m in the wrong demographic?

      This comment totally wins all the series of tubes, forever.

      It’s like the most verbose “Meh” ever!

  2. The Burma-Shave people were probably pleased as punch about that. They moved a lot of product, and they got a lot of (almost) free publicity. All it cost them was a trip to Germany. Brilliant!

    1. YES! There was one in western WI, Hudson I believe, that used to call them selves the “Price Rebels” and they had minutemen painted the big glass windows.

      Ah, those were the days…

  3. Wow.. you just sent me back. I remember the Red Owl stores as a kid. Good times, man….

  4. Um… Moers is not a small village. Its population is slightly more than 100k actually. I should know, its about 10km from where I live. Even in 1958 it had around 50k

    1. Also, the pronunciation isn’t really similar to “Mars”. It’s hard to explain to people who don’t speak German, but the “oe” in “Moers” is pronounced like the Umlaut “ö” which is a bit similar to how the English word “nerd” is pronounced ;-) not quite the same but best I can do.

      1. “which they insisted was pronounced, “Mars””

        I got the impression this was known; otherwise it would simply read “which is pronounced, ‘Mars'”

        However thanks for the explanation of how to pronounce an Umlaut, I’ve always wondered!

  5. This is a great precedent for men’s toiletry product advertising, because it suggests the possibility that Old Spice will begin honoring the many promises made by their latest spokesmanlyman.

  6. 900 jars at $0.15 each, that’s $135. Assuming that he had to pay for most of them, that’s still a good deal for a trip for two from Wisconsin to Germany in 1958. My first google result for airfare in 1958 yielded $453 to fly from NY to London.

  7. A longer account of the “Send Frenchie to Mars” story, including the telegrams exchanged between French and the Burma-Shave company, can be found at Burma-Shave initially tried to discourage Frenchie by pointing out that they’d only promised a trip *to* Mars, and wired him this reply:

    If A Trip
    To Mars You Earn
    Remember, Friend
    There’s No Return

  8. Odd Wisconsin? My sentiments, exactly. Since I’ve moved back to Wisconsin, I’ve been using the portmanteaux of Oddsconsin and Weirdsconsin once in a while. There’s enough kookiness here for our own Travel Channel series.

    I remember the Red Owl at 84th and Greenfield in West Allis.

  9. Where’s Rene? Where’s Frenchie?

    (I can’t believe Boing Boing didn’t catch this connection!)

  10. I’m not exactly Mr. Safety, but this is ridiculous. IIRC, rocket with a C sized motor will get up to 30mph before leaving the end of the launch pad guide rod, and 200mph in about 2 seconds after that. Getting hit with a sparkly rocket is not exactly anyone’s idea of a good time. They are pretty safe if you use proper, well aligned stabilization fins. Much better to just buy a kit, the kits are cheap and safe if you follow the instructions.

  11. Red Owl was a Minnesota based chain when I moved to St. Paul in 1979. We had a Red Owl a few blocks from our house when Marge and I moved in, in 1990, and the sign came down within the year. It’s now the flagship Kowalskis Market. There used to be another Red Owl on West 7th Street that was turned into one of the world’s weirdest Post Office around the same time.

    A Red Owl store sign showed up in the Coen Brothers movie A SERIOUS MAN I am told, but that’s one movie I haven’t seen yet.

    Here’s a nice jpeg of their logo character:

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