The bright yellow smiley face is one of the most recognizable, iconic symbols across the globe. What many people don’t know is that the original smiley face – which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year – was actually created, not in the way depicted in the humorous 1994 Forest Gump scene, but in Massachusetts by local artist, Harvey Ball.
“Smiley” was born in the early 1960’s when a Worcester insurance company launched a campaign to boost employee morale and hired Ball to create smile posters, stickers and buttons. The pins were designed to help employees remember to smile while using the phone, but the buttons became popular with their families and friends too, and orders being flowing in.
Ball was paid $240 for the entire smiley campaign – and never received any further profit from his design. He never applied for a trademark or copyright, and the insurance company, State Mutual, similarly, did not make any money from the design. Ball’s son, Charlie, reportedly said his father never regretted not registering the copyright. Telegram & Gazette quoted Charlie as saying “he was not a money-driven guy, he used to say, ‘Hey, I can only eat one steak at a time, drive one car at a time'”.
Others began creating products with the sunny logo and by 1971, more than 50 million smiley face buttons had been sold, along with coffee mugs, tee shirts and the posters.
“I couldn’t be more proud to have my dad create the smiley face icon 50 years ago,” Ball’s son Charlie told the Good News Network. “It’s truly a unique event in that he didn’t create happiness or good will itself, but he created the symbol for it. Everyone knows the smiley face and it crosses all boundaries, religions, races, and beliefs.”
To ensure the original meaning and intent behind the smiley were preserved despite its commercialization, artist Harvey Ball launched World Smile Day® in 1999 – one day each year, on the first Friday in October, dedicated to spreading smiles and acts of kindness across the globe.
After Ball died in 2001 at the age of 79, Charlie began licensing Smileys to raise money for the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation, a non-profit charitable trust that supports children’s causes. Charlie also dedicates himself to organizing World Smile Day, which is honored every year by the Worcester Historical Museum.
He recalls a moment when the historical aspect of his father’s design really hit home.
“15 years ago in Worcester, when he was still alive, the US Postal Service unveiled a Smiley face postage stamp, and I think that was a moment where he really realized what his legacy was and what it had meant to so many people.”
(WATCH the video below from the History Channel, featuring Dick Clark telling the story of Smiley)