He’s mean. He’s green. But where has Mr. Yuk™ been?
Many who grew up during the ’70s and ’80s will remember those stickers depicting a queasy-looking, green smiley face with its tongue sticking out.
Mr. Yuk became somewhat of a cultural icon thanks to his memorable design and clever marketing. Yet, you don’t see him around as much anymore. Mr. Yuk did a lot to teach Gen Xers and Millennials about household safety. So, we decided to track him down.
If you’re a parent looking for a little nostalgia, you’ll be happy to know Mr. Yuk still exists! You can still get stickers and more featuring his unforgettable face.
But first … let’s take a look at where Mr. Yuk came from.
Pittsburgh’s Poison Prevention Problems
The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh had just opened its first poison center and first year pediatric resident, Dr. Richard Moriarty, was brought on as director.
Moriarty noticed the large number of emergency visits involving children who’d accidentally consumed medications or household chemicals. He knew that many of the parents should be calling poison control for advice first, instead of rushing to the emergency room.
However, another problem in Pittsburgh was branding confusion …
At the time, the skull and crossbones symbol was often used on packaging to indicate a product could be poisonous if consumed. The issue that Moriarty and others noticed was that the Pittsburgh Pirates used the skull and crossbones as the team logo and the symbol was also being used on kids’ cereal and other products.
Children were beginning to associate the skull and crossbones with fun things, like baseball, pirate adventures, and sugary cereal. So, Moriarty set out to come up with a better idea.
How Kids Helped Create Mr. Yuk
For inspiration and guidance, Moriarty and his public relations team went straight to the source. They talked to children about what different types of symbols and colors meant to them and how the imagery made them feel.
“We asked the kids what they associated with the word ‘poison,’ and they said death, illness and their mother yelling,” Moriarty told People magazine in a 1979 interview.
Focus groups of children ages five and younger examined things like stop signs, yelling faces, and even symbols representing death. The image that resonated most was the sick face in fluorescent green.
The final label was also designed by a child. Fourth grader, Wendy Brown of West Virginia, won a contest for her concept. One kid described it as “yucky,” and Mr. Yuk got his name.
A catchy PSA that often ran during Saturday morning cartoons helped solidify Mr. Yuk’s place alongside characters like Louie the Lightning Bug, McGruff the Crime Dog, and Smokey Bear.
Did it work?
Research shows that 3 out of 4 Americans can recognize Mr. Yuk. The spot above aired during the Super Bowl in 1979, and by that time, more than 50-million Mr. Yuk stickers had been distributed around the nation.
There were some critics who believed the character might actually attract young children to hazardous products. However, most believe Mr. Yuk was an effective technique for raising awareness.
Mr. Yuk was not only created for kids but parents and caretakers as well. Every sticker includes the national number for Poison Control (800-222-1222) and some versions have the local center’s number. When an adult sees a Mr. Yuk sticker on a product a child may have consumed, they immediately know what number to call.
Edward P. Krenzelok has served as director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center since 1984. He believes Mr. Yuk, combined with the rise in child-resistant packaging, helped significantly reduce accidental pediatric poisonings.
“Up until the early 1970s, as many as three to five children in the Pittsburgh region were dying each year as a result of accidental poisonings,” Krenzelok stated in 2006. “Due in large part to the poison prevention program Mr. Yuk has made famous and the development of child-resistant caps, there have been less than five accidental poisoning fatalities in Pittsburgh over the last 30 years.”
Get Free Mr. Yuk Stickers for Your Home!
While he may not be as prevalent anymore, Mr. Yuk is still helping educate children and keep families safe. You can request a free sheet of Mr. Yuk stickers for your home.
Send a self-addressed, stamped, business size envelope to the address below:
Pittsburgh Poison Center
200 Lothrop Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
If you need more than one sheet of stickers, or if you’re interested in Mr. Yuk merchandise, there is also a Mr. Yuk online store with T-shirts, stickers, and other items.
Child-Resistant Packaging – Beyond the Sticker
While things like Mr. Yuk stickers can serve as warnings and reminders to young children, they can’t keep kids out of packages containing potentially harmful substances.
A growing number of products, like cleaning supplies, pharmaceuticals, and lawn and garden chemicals, are making use of resealable flexible packaging. Child-Guard® was engineered as an innovative child-resistant closure to keep kids out and give parents more time to respond.
You’ll already find the Child-Guard® slider being used in the laundry industry. Every time you buy a brand that puts the safety of children first, you’re making your voice heard as a consumer. It shows that protecting kids is important to you!
Familiarize yourself with how these sliders operate by watching the animation below. And remember, household chemicals and medications should always be stored out of reach of children, and child-resistant packages should be properly closed.