Mr. Clean's image has stood the test of grime

Mr. Clean turns 50 this year, and though it seems as if he's been ridding American homes of dirt and grime forever, he's a relatively new kid on the block compared with some icons of advertising.

The muscled, tanned, earringed and chrome-domed Mr. Clean is in fact a product of the early TV age, when a booming postwar economy, suburban sprawl and manufacturing and technology advances together conspired to unleash an army of animated ad mascots upon the American consciousness.

"Animation proved very successful for advertising characters because its reality-altering effects gave fictional product spokes-characters their own unique stage on which to entertain and sell their wares," Warren Doss writes in "Meet Mr. Product: The Art of the Advertising Character" (Chronicle Books). "Viewers responded with great enthusiasm to the commercials of Mr. Clean, the Hamm's Bear, Captain Raid and Hey, Mabel! of Carling's Black Label beer campaign."

At 50, the titan of tidy is a relative newcomer among ad icons.

Here are 10 advertising mascots that were already well established when the genie-like Mr. Clean was still being swaddled (along with the products they pitched and the year they went to work):

Elsie the Cow

Borden Dairy

1939

Tony the Tiger

Kellogg's Sugar Frosted Flakes (later Frosted Flakes)

1951

Aunt Jemima

Aunt Jemima pancake mixes and syrup

1893

Dutch Boy

Dutch Boy paints

1907

Jolly Green Giant

Green Giant vegetables

1928

Smokey Bear

U.S. Forest Service forest fire prevention

1944

Miss Chiquita

Chiquita bananas

1944

Mr. Peanut

Planters Nuts

1916

Betty Crocker

Betty Crocker cake mixes, frostings, etc.

1921

Michelin Man

Michelin tires

1898

Staff researcher Sharon Gaus contributed to this article.

Sources: Advertising Age, Advertising Icon Museum, company Web sites

HERE'S HOW MR. CLEAN MOPPED UP THROUGH THE YEARS

1958: The creation of Chicago ad artist Ernie Allen, Mr. Clean is launched, along with Thomas Scott Cadden's impossible-to-eject from-your-cranium jingle (Chorus: Mr. Clean gets rid of dirt and grime/ And grease in just a minute/ Mr. Clean will clean your whole house/ And everything that's in it.).

1960s: The usually genial Mr. Clean frowns in a series of ads because, "He hates dirt."

1962: The winner of the "Give Mr. Clean a First Name" promotion is Veritably. It doesn't stick.

1968: In the first of numerous makeovers and spinoffs, the product is reformulated to include pine scent and provide better cleaning "in the bucket."

1985: Honoring "the man behind the shine," the UCLA Film & Television Archive adds all of Mr. Clean's TV commercials to its permanent collection.

1986: Mr. Clean becomes a spray.

1992: He takes on toilet bowls with a new bathroom liquid.

1993: His "Mountain Falls Fresh" glass and surface spray hits market.

1994: In "The Simpsons" episode "Bart Gets an Elephant," Homer starts to clean the basement floor by pouring too much "Mr. Cleanser" onto the floor, ignoring the warning to use in a well-ventilated area. The fumes get to Homer and the logos on various cleaners come alive and attack him. Mr. Cleanser threatens in a vaguely Schwarzeneggeresque accent: "I must destroy you!"

2000: Salon.com, noting "the earring, the bulging biceps, the tight white T-shirt, the painted-on pants, the fashionably shaved head, the wry expression," asserts that Mr. Clean is a "gay icon ... who needs to come clean about his sexual orientation." A spokesman for the brand responded: "We like to think Mr. Clean was just a man before his time."

2003: Launches a Magic Eraser.

2004: White-clad one goes Hollywood and poses for pics with various celebs at P. Diddy's annual white party in the Hamptons.

2004: Puts in an appearance at Paris Hilton's "MTV Video Music Awards" party in Miami. Say it ain't so, Veritably!

2005: Partners with NASCAR to introduce Auto Dry Pro Series Car Wash.

2006: On the "Lost" episode "The Hunting Party," Sawyer snidely refers to the balding, muscular character Locke as "Mr. Clean."

2007: Gets own Facebook page, countless new "friends."

2008: House Peters Jr., who played Mr. Clean in ads in the 1950s-1960s, dies at 92.

2008: Among products implicated by European Parliament, which votes in favor of scolding advertising industry for "sexual stereotyping."

2008: Adds the "fresh scent of Febreze" in a variety of products.

2008: Ads showing Mr. Clean actually cleaning for the first time in 50 years (instead of genially observing housewives hard at work) play to positive reviews. "Mr. Clean, like Old Spice and Oil of Olay, should have died and gone to heaven," Gary Stibel of the New England Consulting Group tells Brandweek. "These are old brands ... and Procter [& Gamble] ... is making them relevant to the 21st century."

Sources: Proctor & Gamble, news reports