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Push Button, Receive Bacon is a catchphrase & IRL prank often found in public restrooms under the graphic instruction for automatic hand dryers. While the original two-pane depicts a person pushing the button to release heat from the machine, the caption takes the meaning of red wavy stripes (shown above) as thick slices of bacon dispensed from a mysterious bacon box.
On September 7th, 2005, photographer Rick Lee posted a blog 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.
Earliest Online Instance
An earlier blog post on all-encompassingly.com from August 14th, 2004 features an image of “push button recieve bacon” as found graffiti.
Bacon as Miscommunication
In 2007, Usability Works posted a blog on icons as a means of communicating information. Once the images are taken out of context, it is easy for a person to get confused about the meaning of the sign. If a person is seeing the image for the first time with no captions, they may misinterpret “heat” as “bacon.” It works the same way as re-captioning a photo: Once the original context is removed, it could mean anything.