The 50-year legend behind Pittsburgh’s own Mr. Yuk

Fifty years ago, a local doctor created the Poison Control Center and the Mr. Yuk symbol.  When Dr. Richard Moriarty was a resident at UPMC Children’s Hospital, he realized the need for a true Poison control center when a family got into a crash rushing to the hospital when they could have called ahead and learned the chemical was harmless.

“It was clear to me that we needed to let people know that there was a poison center because, frankly, most things that kid get into, even adults, are not going to cause any major problems,” Dr. Moriarty said.

Dr. Moriarty got foundation funding to create the first Poison Control Center in Pittsburgh and the Mr. Yuk symbol, both of which became national.

He nixed the “skull and crossbones” image because it was the Pirates logo and instead got kids’ opinions about the Mr. Yuk expression and green color.

KDKA’s Kristine Sorensen asked 8-year-old Max  McWhinney, “When you hear Mr. Yuk, what does that make you think?”

He replied, “I think it’s something dangerous, yukky.”  That’s exactly what Dr. Moriarty wanted.

When Max was 10 months old, his Grandmother, Fran Goodnack, saw him put something suspicious in his mouth.

“What is that (I thought), and when I pulled it out, I realized it was a stink bug. I was freaking,” Fran said. “So I called Poison Control, and the lady was laughing and she said, they’re not poisonous. Just brush his teeth. “

The stink bug story has become a family legend, but Fran is still grateful to have had the Poison Center to call for help and the stickers to warn her kids and grandson about dangerous household items.

“I actually had the sticker by my phone. So it was right there. I was able to call. My kids are 40 and 43, but they grew up with Mr. Yuk. We had the sticker on everything that was poisonous,” Fran said.

Dr. Moriarty said, “I think we saved a fair number of lives over the 50 years in existence and thanks to an awful lot of help.”

Put the Poison Control center number in your phone– 800-222-1222.

And when you see that menacing face telling you not to eat something … know that it all started right here in Pittsburgh 50 years ago.