Happy Birthday Mr. Yuk!

1200px Poison Help

Who is round and green and queasy all over? 

Mr. Yuk, of course, who has been blinking hard and sticking out his tongue for the last fifty years to warn people of the dangers of poison. Every year, millions of Mr. Yuk stickers are distributed nationwide and around the world, but this mean, green international superstar was born right here in Pittsburgh.

Mr. Yuk and the Pittsburgh Pirates?

In 1971, the new Pittsburgh Poison Center (PPC), established at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, faced two tricky public relations problems. The first was that the public wasn’t aware of the new free poison hotline. If a child ingested something potentially poisonous, panicked parents were still likely to rush their child to an emergency room, rather than call the hotline to get quick, specific information and instructions for their poison emergency.

The second problem was that accidental childhood poisonings were increasing in the region and experts suspected that this could have been related to the success of Pittsburgh Pirates at that time. During the late 1960s, the team repeatedly made it to the playoffs and even won the World Series in 1971. But the more the Pirates won, the more the team’s “Jolly Roger” logo began popping up on things like cereal boxes and candy wrappers. Some wondered if the traditional skull and crossbones, which had long been considered the universal symbol for poisonous substances, confused kids, who were starting to associate the symbol with positive things.

“He looks yucky”

So PPC founder, Dr. Richard W. Moriarty teamed up with local advertising executive, Dick Garber, to come up with a new, more effective image. After conducting market research using kids in focus groups to evaluate a variety of options, Dr. Moriarty and Mr. Garber settled on the now-iconic green sick face character, naming it “Mr. Yuk” after one participant commented that “he looks yucky.”

Round stickers bearing Mr. Yuk’s eternally sour expression, alongside with the PPC’s toll-free hotline number, were an instant hit in Pittsburgh. But when Mr. Yuk appeared in a slightly spooky commercial during the 1975 Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Vikings (the Steelers won), national demand for Pittsburgh’s little green grump exploded. By 1979, fifty million stickers were being distributed annually all over the country and the world.

He’s still green and mean

Today, the PPC is staffed 24 hours a day and serves 44 counties in western and central Pennsylvania from the Ohio border to Susquehanna River.

Amanda S. Korenoski, PharmD, MHA, BCCCP, who has been the managing director of the PPC for six years, offers this advice for parents:

  1. Store medication and things that could be poisonous somewhere safe. Put Mr. Yuk stickers on anything that could be toxic, and remember that nothing is truly “child proof.”
  2. Have the PPC number handy and enter it in your phone contacts.

1 (800) 222-1222

And when they “raise the Jolly Roger” at a Pirates game this season, tip your ball cap to Mr. Yuk to wish him a Happy 50th Birthday… and many more.

Pittsburgh writer, Ann K. Howley, says that readers can request a free sheet of Mr. Yuk stickers by sending a self-addressed stamped business-size envelope to:

Mr. Yuk
Pittsburgh Poison Center
200 Lothrop Street
PFG 01-01-01
Pittsburgh, PA 15213