Skull and crossbones (symbol)

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A skull and crossbones warning about dangerous voltage in Mumbai, India
EU standard toxic symbol, as defined by Directive 67/548/EEC.
Unicode character
'skull and crossbones' (U+2620)

A skull and crossbones is a symbol consisting of a human skull and two long bones crossed together under the skull. It is generally used as a warning of danger, usually in regard to poisonous substances, such as deadly chemicals.

History of the symbol[edit]

At Mission Santa Barbara, a religious outpost founded in California in 1786, stone "skull and crossbones" carvings denote the cemetery entrance.

Actual skulls and bones were long used to mark the entrances to Spanish cemeteries (campo santo). The practice, dating back many centuries, led to the symbol eventually becoming associated with the concept of death.

In 1829, New York State required the labeling of all containers of poisonous substances. The skull and crossbones symbol appears to have been used for that purpose since the 1850s. Previously a variety of motifs had been used, including the Danish "+ + +" and drawings of skeletons.

In the 1870s poison manufacturers around the world began using bright cobalt bottles with a variety of raised bumps and designs (to enable easy recognition in the dark) to indicate poison, but by the 1880s the skull and cross bones had become ubiquitous, and the brightly coloured bottles lost their association.

Modern uses[edit]

Today, the skull and crossbones is still the only standard symbol for poison. It is, however, less common outside industrial usage than it once was. Apart from its negative marketing effect on environmentally conscious consumers, it may actually attract children due to its association with pirates, a popular toy and play theme. For this reason, in the United States there has been a proposal to replace the skull and crossbones by the "Mr. Yuk" symbol. However, Mr. Yuk and his graphic rendering are registered trademarks and service marks of his creator, the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, and the rendering itself is additionally protected by copyright. This means that the name and graphic image cannot be used without a license from the owner—unlike the Skull and crossbones, which is in the public domain.

Unicode uses U+2620 skull and crossbones (HTML: ☠) for the symbol.

See also[edit]