History Of Iconic Yellow 'Smiley' - The Symbol Of Happiness

Mayukh Bari29 August 2020 9:44PM IST
3 min read271

These days you might not be able to find a person who doesn't know about this iconic yellow smiling face ☻. This circular yellow face with two oval eyes and a large smiling mouth is the worldwide symbol for happiness.

However, the story behind this simple face is as exciting as it looks.

The Invention

The original 'Smiley' was designed by a American graphic artist Harvey Ross Ball. In 1963, Ball was employed by State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Massachusetts (now known as Hanover Insurance) to create a happy face to raise the morale of the employees. Surprisingly, Ball spent just 10 minutes and draw up a smiling face on yellow paper. Yellow paper was chosen because it was bright and also connects to happiness. Ball was paid a whopping $45 for his work.

Use & Distribution

At first, the company printed the design on buttons and posters to give out to its employees, hoping to cheer them up. Though it is unknown whether it boosted morale or not, it definitely gained popularity very quickly. Yellow smiley faces started popping up on everything, from greeting cards and stickers to T-shirts and key rings. And although it is widely accepted that Ball invented the smiley, neither he nor the insurance company trademarked the now-iconic design.

Copyright Controversies

In next few years the 'Smiley' became exceptionally popular and with popularity it also attracted controversies. Many companies claimed the ownership over the smiley face design. During the early 1970s, Hallmark owners Bernard and Murray Spain copyrighted the design with the slogan "Have a Happy Day." The brothers sold more than 50 million smiley buttons and countless other products.

In 1972, Frenchman Franklin Loufrani became the first person to legally trademark the use of a smiley face. He used it to highlight the good news parts of the newspaper 'France Soir'. He even started 'The Smiley Company' which trademarked the design in 100 countries.

In 1997, The Smiley Company attempted to acquire trademark in the United States. This started a conflict with Wal-Mart as they also started to use similar symbol. In June 2010, Wal-Mart and The Smiley Company settled their dispute with secret terms. In 2016, Wal-Mart brought back the smiley face on its website, social media profiles, and in selected stores.

In 2001, Charlie Ball (Harvey Ball's son) attempted to reclaim his father's creation. But The Smiley Company argued that the design is so simple that no one person can lay claim to having created it. They also point to early cave paintings found in France (2500 BC) and many other depictions of a smiley face.

The Evolution

The 'Smiley' changed its design along with its meaning over time. From newspaper to music-labels, from films like 'Watchmen' to games like 'Pac-man', and recently on every smartphones as 'Emojis' - the variations of the original 'Smiley' are everywhere to cheer you up.

Now-a-days there are hundreds of variation of Ball's simple 10 minutes drawing. But one thing which didn't change for almost half a century is that, this iconic face remains the universal symbol of optimism and happiness. 😎