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A Bumpy History of the Baby on Board Sign

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From the mid to late 1980s, the most ubiquitous road sign didn’t advise you to stop, obey the speed limit, or be mindful of crossing deer. Instead, it was diamond-shaped, used a black-on-yellow color scheme, and came with a stern warning for nearby drivers: There was a baby on board.

Safety 1st

The suction-cupped alerts that stuck to a car’s rear or side windows were originally designed to notify surrounding traffic that an infant was in their midst, the idea being that drivers would either slow down or take note that a fatigued or distracted parent was operating a motor vehicle ahead of them. In the summer of 1985, barely a year after its debut, the Baby on Board sign had been affixed to more than 3 million cars, with 500,000 being sold each month.

It was a windfall for former real estate investor and Brookline, Massachusetts resident Michael Lerner, who spent $65,000 of his own money to start Safety 1st, a child-focused consumer brand that marketed everything from poison alert labels to soft faucet caps so that babies wouldn’t hurt their heads in the tub. Lerner, who had no children of his own, recalled feeling anxious as he drove his 18-month old nephew home from a family gathering in a congested traffic area; he subsequently obtained the rights to Baby on Board from two sisters, Patricia and Helen Bradley, who had seen a similar sign in Europe but didn’t know how to peddle it to prospective buyers.

Neither did retailers. Lerner spent much of his time trying to convince department stores that the signs belonged in the infant section, not their automotive display: He believed the product was a safety device, not a novelty. The claim fell on deaf ears until he met with a buyer for the now-defunct Bradlees chain. The store was making an aggressive push for child car seats and felt Lerner’s pitch fit their strategy perfectly.

Once Bradlees began carrying it, other stores like Sears and Toys "R" Us followed suit—and by 1986, the distinctive yellow signs had become as common as a spare tire.

While Lerner was profiting handsomely, he was seeing only a fraction of the car sign industry's total revenue. Once Baby on Board caught on, it became easy for companies to manufacture parody replicas: Baby Driving, Grandma on Board, Ex-Husband in Trunk, and Illiterate on Bord were all snapped up by more cynical drivers who felt the original sign was silly to suggest they'd be driving aggressively if not for the warning. At one point, the knock-offs outnumbered Lerner’s sign by five to one on roads in the New York metropolitan area.

Safety 1st

Lerner and his satirists had one thing in common: road safety experts had extreme reservations about the signs, which could potentially obstruct the driver’s view through the rear window. While some states approved them providing they were stuck to the lower half of the glass, others were more aggressive. North Carolina law insisted nothing be placed on the window; Maryland had police officers giving drivers a $30 ticket for the infraction. In 1986, the Insurance Information Institute declared the signs posed a hazard for drivers who could become distracted by trying to read them, prompting a traffic accident. They also expressed concern rescue workers could risk harm by trying to extricate a baby who may not even be on board at the time of a collision.

Lerner dismissed the phantom-baby stigma, insisting the sign was designed to be removed when the infant was absent and felt it contributed to more responsible driving. While it was impossible to discern whether it actually made a difference, the parodies certainly did: Baby Carries No Cash and other jokes helped contribute to window decal fatigue, prompting Safety 1st to focus on other products like bath seats and door signs that could tell solicitors a baby was asleep inside. In 2000, Lerner sold the company to Dorel for $38 million. In 2014, the owners estimated more than 10 million signs had been sold.

One of them was purchased by a young man named Freddy Franco. According to an April 1987 report in Florida’s News-Journal, Franco was driving on Interstate 95 when a police officer spotted the sign and pulled him over. After growing suspicious of Franco’s nervousness, the officer searched the vehicle. In addition to being in violation of a state law banning anything from rear windows, Franco also had 15 pounds of cocaine hidden in compartments. There was no baby.

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Two of the Last Blockbuster Stores Are Closing
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The fact that Blockbuster still has three stores in the U.S. may come as a surprise, but the video rental chain's days are numbered. The brand's two branches in Alaska will be closing up shop next week, leaving only one last holdout in Bend, Oregon, according to Engadget.

"If you'd asked me 14 years ago, there's no way I'd thought we'd be the last one," Sandi Harding, General Manager of the Oregon store, tells Engadget. "It just seems a little crazy.”

Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy in 2010 but continued to license its logo to franchisees. In 2013, there were 13 remaining Blockbuster stores, and by 2016 there were nine. Many of these branches were located in Alaska, where internet is costly and many areas lack a broadband connection, making streaming difficult.

This alone wasn't enough to keep Blockbuster's Fairbanks and DeBarr Road locations in business, though. The stores will close July 16, but they'll reopen the following day for an inventory sale that will last until the end of August.

John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight, became an unlikely champion of the DeBarr Road outlet last April when he bought the jockstrap worn by Russell Crowe in Cinderella Man for $7000 and donated it to the store in hopes of generating interest and foot traffic. It worked for a little while, but the effect was temporary and business dropped off once again. Indeed, the age of Netflix marks the end of an era.

[h/t Engadget]

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11 Facts About 7-Eleven on 7/11
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Happy 7-Eleven day! Don't forget to pick up a free Slurpee—and while you're enjoying the iconic slushie, read up on little-known tidbits about the popular company.

1. 7-ELEVEN STARTED IN 1927.

That was when Joe Thompson, an employee of the Southland Ice Company in Dallas, Texas, began selling eggs, milk, and bread from a makeshift storefront in one of the company’s icehouses. These bare necessities were kept cold thanks to the ice Southland produced, and local residents liked the convenience of avoiding the crowds and aisles of a regular grocery store if they only had to pick up a few items.

Thompson eventually bought out the ice company and started opening convenient little stores all over Texas. Shortly after, a company executive brought a souvenir totem pole back from a trip to Alaska, and set it in front of one of the busiest locations. Soon, the spot had earned the nickname the “Tote’m Store,” not only because of the totem pole, but because customers toted away their purchases. The company officially adopted the name and decorated their locations with an Inuit-inspired theme to match. The name changed to 7-Eleven in 1946 to reflect their new store hours—7:00am to 11:00pm—in order to capitalize on the post-World War II economic boom.

2. 7-ELEVEN'S NEW SCHEDULE WAS UNHEARD OF AT A TIME WHEN GROCERY STORES CLOSED MUCH EARLIER IN THE EVENING.

No one thought there would be demand for a store that was open 24/7—until one night in Austin in 1962. The local 7-Eleven had seen such a rush of students following a University of Texas football game that they were forced to stay open until dawn the next day. Sensing a trend, the store continued to stay open all night on the weekends, and soon more and more locations adopted the new schedule as well.

3. 7-ELEVEN IS ONE OF THE WORLD'S LARGEST FRANCHISE COMPANIES. WITH MORE THAN 55,000 LOCATIONS.


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They beat out McDonald’s in 2007 and have since outgrown them by about 20,000 stores. Japan is the largest market with more than 20,000 stores under the name “Seven & I Holdings,” the parent company of 7-Eleven since 2005 [PDF]. America ranks among the top with 7896 locations, along with by Thailand and South Korea with more than 11000 and 7000 stores, respectively. And the company keeps growing, with a brand new store opening somewhere in the world every two hours of every day.

4. 7-ELEVEN RAN THE FIRST TELEVISION ADVERTISEMENT FOR A CONVENIENCE STORE IN 1949.

The ad touted their curbside grocery delivery service, and an animated rooster and owl reminded customers that the store was open early and closed late.

5. THE SLURPEE WAS INVENTED AT A DAIRY QUEEN.

In the late-1950s, Omar Knedlik of Kansas City owned a rundown Dairy Queen. When his soda fountain went on the fritz, he improvised by putting some bottles in the freezer to stay cool. However, when he popped the top, they were a little frozen and slushy. Folks loved them and started requesting "those pops that were in a little bit longer." Realizing he had a surprise hit on his hands, Knedlik built a specialized machine using the air conditioning unit from a car, and cranked out slushy soda by freezing a mixture of flavored syrup, water, and carbon dioxide to make it fizz. He called it an ICEE, but when the drink concept was licensed to 7-Eleven in 1965, the company’s marketing department renamed it the Slurpee after the sound made while sipping it through a straw.

6. EVERY YEAR SINCE 2002, 7-ELEVEN HAS GIVEN AWAY FREE SMALL SLURPEES TO CELEBRATE THE COMPANY'S BIRTHDAY ON JULY 11(7/11).

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On this one day, 7-Eleven gives away about 500,000 gallons of Slurpees ... in North America anyway. In Australia, where the ice cold drink is also very popular, Slurpees are given away on November 7 (written Down Under as 7/11) to the tune of about 270,000 gallons.

7. ALMOST ALL SLURPEE FLAVORS ARE CONSIDERED KOSHER PAREVE (FOOD THAT IS NEITHER MEAT NOR DAIRY).

There are a few, such as Diet Pepsi and the Jolly Rancher mixes, that are considered kosher dairy (due to the chemical tagatose in the artificial sweetener), while others, like the popular Piña Colada drink, are not certified at all. Some 7-Eleven stores get the machines themselves certified kosher as a selling point for their Jewish customers.

8. FOR 14 YEARS RUNNING, THE RULING SLURPEE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD HAS BEEN MANITOBA, CANADA.

The province has an average of over 188,000 Slurpees sold in five regional stores every month. According to 7-Eleven, Calgary—and America’s #1 Slurpee market, Detroit—are closing in on the champs, though. Maybe next year, guys.

As for the biggest-selling single Slurpee location in the world, that title goes to the 7-Eleven in Kennewick, Washington, which locals have dubbed “The Slurpee Factory.” But 7-Eleven crowns more than just a Slurpee king. According to 7-Eleven, Maryland is the leader in hot dog sales, Long Islanders drink the most coffee, and Utah residents can’t go anywhere without a Big Gulp in their cupholders.

9. SINCE THE 2000 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION, 7-ELEVEN HAS RUN A PROMOTION CALLED "7-ELECTION."

Customers vote by purchasing special red or blue coffee cups printed with each candidate's name. The cups are scanned at check-out and automatically entered in this unscientific, but surprisingly accurate poll—in 2000 and 2004, the number of coffee cup votes and the number of actual popular votes for both candidates was only off by 1 or 2 percentage points. While 2008's 7-Elections results were still correct, they gave the election to Obama by a landslide—60 percent to 40 percent—when the margin was really only about 7 percent. The trend continued in 2012, as caffeine addicts went blue to the tune of 59 percent for Obama to 41 percent for Romney, while the actual vote wound up being 51 percent to 47 percent.

10. TO PROMOTE THE RELEASE OF THE SIMPSONS MOVIEIN 2007, 12 SELECT 7-ELEVENS IN NORTH AMERICA WERE CONVERTED INTO KWIK-E-MARTS.

That's the convenience store in Springfield owned by Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. At a cost of about $10 million, the 7-Eleven stores had their exterior signs replaced to reflect the fictitious store name and many of the products inside were modeled after those seen on the show. For example, customers could buy Krusty-O’s cereal, a limited edition Radioactive Man comic book, six packs of Buzz Cola, and even Squishees, the Simpsons version of the Slurpee. Sadly, Homer’s favorite swill, Duff Beer, was not available as the film being promoted was rated PG-13. Instead, they had a Duff Energy Drink with a label very similar to the animated brew. While not all locations were transformed into Kwik-E-Marts, special Simpsons merchandise was available at all 7-Eleven locations, including Homer’s own Woo-Hoo Blue Vanilla Slurpees with collectible straws.

11. 7-ELEVENS ARE DIFFERENT ALL AROUND THE WORLD.

In America, we see 7-Eleven as little more than a convenient place to grab a quick cup of coffee before work or a Big Gulp while we’re out running errands. But in other parts of the world, the shops are a lot more important to the local population. In Indonesia, for example, 7-Elevens are more like a hip, upscale coffeehouse where 65 percent of customers are under the age of 30. The stores offer free Wi-Fi, plenty of tables and chairs inside and out on the sidewalk, and often feature live musical performances. Young people gather there late into the night to socialize, work online, and eat local favorites like fried rice, tiny sandwiches filled with cheese or chocolate called pillow bread, and chicken katsu, a Japanese-style fried cutlet.

In Taiwan, 7-Elevens are more common than Starbucks in Seattle. In the capital city of Taipei, there are more than 4000 locations in a city of 23 million, with many city blocks capable of sustaining more than one location. Aside from purchasing local food and Slurpees, customers can pay credit card and utility bills, book travel arrangements, and buy small electronics like iPods. It’s also not unusual for people to have packages delivered to their closest 7-Eleven instead of their home, because it’s more convenient to pick it up late at night instead of trying to coordinate with a deliveryman. The government has even given into the popularity of the shops by allowing people to pay traffic tickets and property taxes there, and using them as a hub for special programs like health screenings.

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