16 August 2002

Choking Victim; Poster

In 1974, Dr. Henry Heimlich published findings on what was to become the Heimlich Maneuver. A week later, the first choking victim was saved by the method. In 1978, New York City passed a law requiring that every establishment, regardless of size or design, “where food is sold and space is designated specifically as eating areas shall have posted in a conspicuous place, easily accessible to all employees and customers, a sign graphically depicting the Heimlich Maneuver or a comparable technique instructing on how to dislodge food from a choking person.” The bill was passed unanimously by the City Council in 1978 (five days before Christmas and its feasts.) “Dislodging food from person choking; poster” became Local Law 43 when signed by Mayor Koch on December 29. The law notes that it “does not impose any duty or obligation on any proprietor, employee or other person to remove, assist in removing, or attempt to remove food from the throat of the victim or a choking emergency,” and that the NY Department of Health “shall make signs available, and may charge a fee to cover printing, postage and handling expenses.” The posters are distributed along with your restaurant license.

In 1997, the posters were dramatically redesigned. An article in the UK Independent On Sunday (November 30, 1997) notes

“The Department of Health grew concerned that, in a city like New York, where dining in is the exception, habitual restaurant-goers may suffer from over-exposure to Heimlich signs, and that, over time, the charts risk becoming so much civic-minded wallpaper.”

To the rescue came students from Parson’s School of Design who redesigned the old institutional orange design with a jarring new constructivist design in primary colors. The poster is certainly harder to miss, though with 10 years of exposure it may be time again for a redesign.

Choking Victim Poster

Update 1/2005: For a more extensive history of this poster design, see Guns, Butter and Ballots. Citizens take charge by designing for better government, January/February 2005. (Towards the middle of the page.)