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Push Button, Receive Bacon is a popular catchphrase and graffiti tag often spotted next to the graphic instruction on automatic hand dryers in public restrooms. The humor in the phrase is derived from the red wavy stripes that represents hot air in the diagram, which can be reinterpreted as thick slices of bacon in the company of the caption.
The earliest known online discussion about the phrase appeared on the personal blog All-Encompassingly on August 14th, 2004. The post was accompanied by a low-resolution photograph of an automatic hand dryer with the phrase “push button, receive bacon” tagged underneath (shown below).
On September 7th, 2005, photographer Rick Lee posted an article recounting how the phrase came to him years earlier; although even he is unsure if it spread from him, or if the phrase “push button receive bacon” might be a common conclusion many people might come to.
Quite a few years ago, when hand dryers stopped having English instructions and these little pictures made their debut, I was out on a photo shoot with friend and art director Dick Allowatt. We were washing our hands in a McDonald’s somewhere and I said to him “look at this… to me this looks like it says push button, receive bacon.” Well… we laughed and laughed all day about that. I thought it up all on my own but I have no idea really what year that was. When I put this post on my blog, a friend of mine said “did you get that idea from Charlie Cooper?” I said that I thought it up all on my own, but she said that she heard that Charlie said that. Well… I did a quick Google search and found that the phrase was all over the place. Apparently there was a punk band named Push Button Receive Bacon. Somebody had a CafePress site selling stuff with the phrase on it! Was I the first to say that? Did it spread virally from me? I have no idea. Perhaps I was the first but I doubt that it spread just from me… perhaps many people said it. No one will ever know, but it’s still funny.
On July 28th, 2007, Matthew Oliphant highlighted another instance of the graffiti tagged on a hand dryer as an interesting play on semantics of public iconography in a blog post on his site Usability Works.
So the image above is a good case in point. Now, because I was in a restroom, and this device was close to the sinks, and I this isn’t the first time I’ve seen a device like this, I was 99.99% sure (p=< .001 if you like) that if I pressed the button, warm air would come out. Not bacon. But someone who might look on this device for the first time (maybe from another country?) might be confused. I mean, this is America. It could be that bacon comes out of this thing.
In the following years, the phrase continued to gain momentum as the bacon food fandom reached its peak on the web. On January 7th, 2009, Urban Dictionary user Dewert submitted an entry for “PBRB,” defined as “[an] acronym, stands for ‘push button, receive bacon.’ A pictorial version is found on many public washroom hand drying devices.” A few months later on May 21st, 2009, Charlie Todd featured a photograph of a hand dryer tagged with the phrase as spotted in a men’s bathroom at Hunter College in New York City (shown below).
On July 24th, 2011, BuzzFeed user Melvin submitted a photograph of another graffitied automatic hand dryer in a post titled “Push Button, Receive Bacon.”
In addition, the phrase went on to spawn several dozens of fan art illustrations on Tumblr and Reddit, as well as a variety of wearable merchandises bearing the iconic image on Zazzle and other online custom apparel retailers.
Button-Powered Bacon Dispenser
On November 20th, 2014, Minnesota-based hacker collective The Rabbit Hole showcased a working prototype of a semi-automatic bacon dispenser made from a reconfigured laser jet printer (shown below). The device was designed by the team as their entry to The Deconstruction hackathon event.