Wellbee, the ‘health educator’s friend’
More than 50 years ago, when CDC was still the Communicable Disease Center, Public Information Officer George M. Stenhouse wanted to develop a public health symbol that could be used by all state and local public health agencies in the U.S.. In response, staff artist Harold M. Walker, who had previously worked as an animator in Hollywood on cartoons such as “Felix the Cat,” took to his drawing board to design Wellbee, a cartoon character that exemplified “wellbeing.”
Wellbee was first introduced to the public on March 11, 1962, in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.
According to a March 9, 1962 press release, Wellbee is “a pleasant-faced, bright–eyed, happy cartoon character, who is the personification of good health.” CDC designed a comprehensive marketing campaign that used newspapers, posters, leaflets, radio and television, as well as personal appearances at public health events. Wellbee’s first assignment was to help promote the Sabin type II oral polio vaccine in Atlanta and across the United States, from Massachusetts to Hawaii and Alaska.
Wellbee’s future assignments included other health promotion campaigns, such as diphtheria and tetanus immunizations, hand-washing, physical fitness, oral health promotion, and injury prevention.
Mr. Stenhouse announced in a February 1963 memo to members of the Conference of State and Territorial Directors of Public Health Education that “Wellbee, the ‘health educator’s friend,’ had a busy year. He was particularly active in promoting community polio programs. He spoke Spanish in New Mexico; he came to life in costume in Hawaii and led a parade.” On CDC campuses, a Wellbee decal was placed on employee windshields to help identify cars in the parking lot.
Take a closer look:
- Check out a high resolution image of the original Wellbee sketch, drawn by CDC artist (and former Hollywood animator!) Harold M. Walker.
- In 1963, Wellbee took the leap from the page to the physical world. View historic images of a public health employee with Wellbee in puppet form and a Wellbee mascot posing with Boston Red Sox team members on the playing field.
- Take a peek at these campaign posters (promoting the Sabin Type II oral polio vaccine) from 1963:
- “Wellbee” says Be Well!
- Protect Your Family Against Polio
- Learn more about the virus that causes polio and global efforts to eradicate the disease.
- View 1964 campaign posters from Wellbee’s next assignments:
- Wellbee was everywhere! View the decal that CDC employees displayed on their windshields in the 1960s.
From the source:
- Watch CDC’s “We Were There” presentation, “Conquering Polio in America: The Cutter Incident and Beyond.”
- Hear oral historiesexternal icon about polio from Global Health Chronicles, a CDC Museum/Emory University collaboration, along with historic photographsexternal icon and original documents.
Wondering if polio could ever make a comeback? Learn how WHO’s Polio Surveillance System works.
Then and now:
- Take a peek at these historic surveillance reports published before (1957) and during (1962-1963) Wellbee’s campaigns:
- Poliomyelitis Surveillance Report: No. 132 (Released October 25, 1957)
- Poliomyelitis Surveillance Report: No. 269 (Released October 5, 1962)
- Poliomyelitis Surveillance Report: No. 274 (Released January 18, 1963)
- If you’re extra curious, dive into these reports evaluating the outcomes of polio vaccination campaigns:
- Learn more about CDC’s history of polio eradication efforts and the latest polio reports.
- Take a look at these CDC infographics for World Polio Daypdf icon and Polio Eradicationpdf icon.
- Check out the most up-to-date information about polioexternal icon from the World Health Organization.
Give it a try:
- Explore polio and Wellbee with these coloring sheets:
- How much do you know about polio? Explore travel guidelines, key facts, vaccination schedules, and prevention tips with CDC’s Disease of the Week poliovirus feature, then try your hand at a short quiz.
- 3D print your own poliovirus capsid at home through the NIH 3D Print Exchangeexternal icon.