If you came of age in the 1970s, you more than likely remember the commercial. It begins with a demonic laugh, then segues into a slow, doom-like song that begins, “Mr. Yuk is mean. Mr. Yuk is green.”
In this 60-second commercial, a legend was born. When it aired during Super Bowl IX during 1975, Mr. Yuk was introduced to a national audience. Mr. Yuk wasn’t the only winner from Pittsburgh that year. The Steelers claimed their first championship, defeating the Minnesota Vikings, 16-6.
By 1980, poison control centers were distributing 50 million stickers featuring Mr. Yuk’s disgusted visage each year. Here’s the story of an icon:
The birth of a legend
Mr. Yuk’s creation began as an effort to solve a dangerous problem. Pittsburgh children in the early 1970s appeared to accidentally ingest poison at a rate higher than the national average. Health officials surmised one theory: The skull-and-crossbones symbol used to indicate toxic substances was attracting children because of its similarity to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Jolly Roger symbol.
Compounding the matter, Children’s Hospital Chief Pediatric Resident Dr. Richard W. Moriarty noticed the emergency room was getting many calls and visits related to poisons, when poison control centers should have been the first point of contact.
“Frantic parents were making mad dashes to emergency rooms when what they needed to do was to call a poison center, get the right information and, more than likely, sit tight,” Moriarty told the Western Pennsylvania History journal during 2009.
Pittsburgh medical officials decided to develop a replacement symbol in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Poison Center. Dr. Moriarty took the lead on developing an image that had no sports association, would grab attention, and would educate the public about poison control centers. After a series of tests and research, Dr. Moriarty and his team created a 1970s icon.
Everyone in Pittsburgh wanted Mr. Yuk stickers soon after they were introduced. But it would take a few years before Mr. Yuk had national visibility. It would take the unforgettable commercial, aired during that 1975 Super Bowl, before children nationwide would be introduced to Mr. Yuk.
Pittsburgh health officials later credited the program for having reduced the number of deaths from accidental poisoning.
“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 during the last 30 years,” former Pittsburgh Poison Center Director Dr. Edward P. Krenzelok said in 2006.
The Mr. Yuk poison prevention program remains alive and well more than 40 years after he was introduced. You can request a free sheet of Mr. Yuk stickers by sending a self-addressed, stamped business envelope to:
Pittsburgh Poison Center
200 Lothrop Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15213