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Harvey Ball and the Smiley Face

Updated on August 15, 2013

The Creation of Ad Man Harvey Ball

The Original Smiley Face
The Original Smiley Face | Source

The city of Worcester, MA has had it’s share of inventions, notable people and unique occurrences in it’s 340 year history. In 1880, John Lee Richmond of the Worcester Ruby Legs pitched the first perfect game in Major League history. John Adams, 2nd President of the US, Declaration of Independence signer and Founding Father taught school here for several years. The original “rocket scientist” Robert Goddard, invented the liquid fueled rocket here and as a physicist and professor at Clark University, developed the theories of space flight that helped the US get to the moon. The first Valentine Card was invented in Worcester and, appropriately, so was the Birth Control Pill.

Harvey Ross Ball was born in Worcester in 1921. He was a hero in World War II, earning the Silver Star for Heroism in the Battle of Okinawa. After the war he worked as an ad executive and opened his own firm in 1959. In 1963 he was contacted by a local insurance company to improve morale.

The company was State Mutual Life Assurance (now known as Hanover Insurance). They had recently merged with another company and morale was at a low point. As part of a “friendship” campaign , Ball designed the Smiley Face. It took him less than 15 minutes and he was paid $45 for his effort.

The company used Ball’s Smiley Face on buttons, card and posters. These items were used to get their employees to smile as they went about their daily business. I was unable to find any evidence that the Smiley Face was effective in improving morale, but the popularity of the simple design took off. The buttons became very popular. They were produced in lots of 10,000. In 1967, they were used in an advertising campaign for a Seattle S & L.

Ball’s design was so simple, it is evident that similar symbols were used prior to 1963. In an ad for the movie “Lili” in 1953 has simple happy faces adorning it. In 1962, New York radio station WMCA, used a simple Happy Face as part of a logo on promotional sweatshirts. There quite likely are other instances


The Fad

The symbol really took off in 1970 when two brothers from Philadelphia, novelty makers, Bernard and Murray Spain, combined the Smiley Face with the word “Have a Nice Day!”. They and many imitators produced millions of Smiley face, tee-shirts, posters, and other items. The New York manufacturer, NG Slater produced 50 million buttons! The fad lasted for about two years, became a symbol of the youth culture and made a lot of money for a lot of people. Harvey Ball and State Mutual were not among them. Neither had bothered to trademark or copywrite the image.

In 1972, French journalist and newspaper publisher, Franklin Loufrani, launched the "take the time to smiley" campaign in his newspaper France Soir. Nice, uplifting articles were adorned with “Smiley” for the readers who only wanted to read pleasant stories.

In 1996 Franklin Loufrani and his son Nicholas, formed the Smiley licensing company. They eventually acquired the rights to that symbol in over 100 countries, except the US.

In 1997, they attempted to acquire licensing rights to Smiley in the US They had one big obstacle. Marketing giant, WalMart had been using the Smiley Face in their “Rolling Back Prices” campaign. Walmart was countersued by the French company after they attempted to register the symbol. The case went to court in 2002 and languished there until 2011 when a confidential settlement was reached between the two parties.

With the rise of the internet and email in the 2000’s, the Smiley Face got a new life as a very popular “emoticon” Millions of emails, documents, forum and blog entries are adorned with this popular Smiley Face Emoticon.

Harvey Ball surrounded by Smiley Face merchandise
Harvey Ball surrounded by Smiley Face merchandise | Source

Harvey Ball died of liver failure in 2001 at the age of 79.According to his son, Charles Ball, he never regretted not copywriting the symbol. All he made was the $45 State Mutual paid him to draw the original. In his retirement, Ball participated in the occasional public signing event and founded the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation, a non-profit charitable trust which supports children's causes. Money for the Foundation is raised by “World Smile Day” which occurs the first Friday of October. The saying of the day is “do an act of kindness-Make one person smile”

Types of Smiley Faces

Christmas Smiley
Christmas Smiley | Source
Silly Smiley
Silly Smiley | Source


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    • billd01603 profile image

      billd01603 5 years ago from Worcester

      Thanks for reading alocsin, I enjoyed writing it.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Had no idea about all this intrigue behind a popular symbol. Sorry I missed that day -- would like to have celebrated it. Voting this Up and Interesting.

    • billd01603 profile image

      billd01603 5 years ago from Worcester

      Thanks mcmmarketing for your view. Sometimes the simplest things are the best.

    • mcnmmarketing profile image

      mcnmmarketing 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Wow, I never thought about who started the smiley face trendy. Something so simple and pleasant has made some people very rich. From now on I will make sure that I get the rights to all of my ideas. I learned a lot from this. Great job!