Do you remember Mr. Yuk? Last week, the icky green graphic received a brand-new mascot costume and made his official public debut at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Chances are you probably remember the green stickers featuring Mr. Yuk’s stuck-out tongue or might even be able to sing along to his 1970s jingle. For over 50 years, Mr. Yuk has held the distinction of being the most recognized poison prevention/poison center awareness symbol in the United States. Let’s look back at how this iconic symbol has helped promote poison prevention. We’ll even share how to get a free sheet of Mr. Yuk stickers. (Did everyone have some of these stickers in their homes growing up or was it just me?)
From Traditional Skulls and Crossbones To a “Yucky” Symbol
Today, most of us take for granted access to a national poison control center and a toll-free phone number to call where one can get immediate help. In the early 1950s, this type of center did not yet exist. When a national poison center called America’s Poison Centers opened in 1958, it still needed a lot of work. Many of the people who picked up the phone lines didn’t have sufficient toxicology training and there were no real standards in place.
One physician who led significant change was a pediatrician named Richard Moriarty. Moriarty, who also founded the Pittsburgh Poison Center, is often credited with creating Mr. Yuk. However, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Moriarty received help from Richard Garber who worked at a local PR firm. The development of Mr. Yuk, Garber said, was an effort made alongside several talented individuals.
Traditionally, skulls and crossbones have long represented poison. Moriarty did not feel this image was appropriate for a public health campaign and not enough people, especially children, would know to stay away from this label.
Moriarty sat in focus groups with children between the ages of five to eight years old. The kids in these focus groups ultimately helped design what would later be Mr. Yuk. They found fluorescent green to be the most unappealing color and a “sick” face was the least popular among the kids: a face making a sour expression with a tongue sticking out.
1971: Mr. Yuk Debuts
In March 1971, Mr. Yuk made his public debut from the Pittsburgh Poison Center. His name, Mr. Yuk, is credited to a fourth grader from West Virginia named Wendy Brown who won a contest held by the Pittsburgh Poison Control Center.
Children, and adults, quickly recognized Mr. Yuk’s grimacing appearance meant he was sick and to keep away from poison and poisonous substances.
Throughout the 1970s, Mr. Yuk was massively popular with three significant attributions to his popularity. The public health campaign received a mention in Time Magazine and landed a major public service announcement which aired during Super Bowl IX in 1975. This is where audiences first heard the catchy jingle about how “Mr. Yuk is mean, Mr. Yuk is green.”
Perhaps nothing else made Mr. Yuk more nationally recognizable than his stickers.
The Legacy of Mr. Yuk’s Stickers
The 1975 commercial encouraged viewers to get to know Mr. Yuk’s face, as his stickers would be stuck on every single item which could make you very sick. By 1988, these stickers included the toll-free phone number 1-800-222-1222 to the Pittsburgh Poison Center. The phone number is found right under Mr. Yuk’s stuck-out tongue.
Since the 1970s, millions of Mr. Yuk stickers have been distributed across the United States. You can still call this Poison Help number and be routed to your local poison center. You can also still request the stickers for free. Send a self-addressed, stamped business size envelope to the following address:
Pittsburgh Poison Center
200 Lothrop Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Mr. Yuk in 2023
Mr. Yuk turned 50 in 2021. Despite having a yucky mug, he continues to educate countless children and adults about poison prevention while promoting poison center awareness.