The little yellow decals made Michael Lerner a multi-millionaire.
The little yellow decals made Michael Lerner a multi-millionaire.

Horrifying story behind $54m sticker

When Michael Lerner strapped his 18-month-old nephew into the back seat of his car one day in 1984, he had no idea the drive would change his life.

The 30-year-old executive recruiter was taking the child home after a family get-together in Boston in the US - but soon after setting off, he was left terrified by the aggressive driving of other motorists.

"It was the first time in my life that I felt what a parent would feel, with this little infant in their car," the now 65-year-old told the Washington Post .

"People were cutting me off, tailgating me, and I felt extraordinarily protective and concerned."

The experience rattled him - so when he got a phone call just days later from a mate representing the inventors of a car safety sign which bore the words "Baby Aboard", Mr Lerner was sold.

In the end, he bought the rights to the sign, changed the wording to "Baby On Board" and founded his own company, Safety 1, which sold the now-iconic car decals and other safety gear.

"I don't know if I would have connected so strongly with the product if I didn't have that experience," he told reporter Caitlin Gibson.

By September of that year, 10,000 had been sold - a number that soared to 500,000 per month by June the following year.

The stickers were so widespread that by 1986, they were being parodied by alternative versions bearing slogans such as "Baby, I'm Bored".

 

Mr Lerner sold his mansion to DJ Khaled last year. Picture: Rich Fury/Getty Images
Mr Lerner sold his mansion to DJ Khaled last year. Picture: Rich Fury/Getty Images

 

Still, the popularity of the little yellow decals persisted - and in 2000, Mr Lerner sold up to Canadian company Dorel Industries, pocketing $US38 million ($A54.3 million).

But in an ironic twist, Mr Lerner, who made his fortune and a career out of a baby safety sign, never had children of his own.

It enabled him to live a life of luxury, and last year he made headlines after selling his plush Miami Beach mansion to DJ Khaled for $US26 million ($A37 million).

Over the years, the origin of the sign has been tangled in rumours and urban legends.

One popular story incorrectly claims the decals were produced after the death of a baby known to the inventors, while others mistakenly believe the purpose of them is to alert emergency services to a baby possibly being thrown from a vehicle after a crash.

"The sign is not for emergency services but more of a notice to other drivers. Anyone using these signs must ensure they are not obstructing the driver's view," a NSW Police spokesperson is quoted as saying on the NRMA website.

Officially, according to Safety 1, the idea behind the sign is to "encourage drivers to use caution when approaching cars with younger passengers".

Mr Lerner has also busted those persistent myths, insisting the entire company was born as a direct result of that one life-changing drive 35 years ago.

Continue the conversation @carey_alexis | alexis.carey@news.com.au


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