The True Origin Of The Smiley Face

The Smiley Face is just two black dots over a smile on a yellow background, but has become ubiquitous over social media and electronic communication. Ever wonder where it started? Let's look at the birth of this happy example of modern culture, and maybe realize it's not as contemporary as we thought.

Smiley Face not as contemporary WJan Ladislaides, a legal officer to the town of Trencin, Slovakia, wrote the first documented use of what would now be called a happy emoticon, in 1635, next to his signature, certifying the authenticity of the town accounts. It's also worth noting, as fact of the day ;-), (see what i did?) that the :-), we are all used to, was invented as a joke marker by Scott Fahlman on 19 September 1982.

Harvey Ball, a designer from Massachusetts, the main contender for the creator of the iconic design came up with the familiar smiling face on the yellow background in 1963, ostensibly to benefit employees of the State Mutual Life Assurance Company of America. Workers morale was low, owing to worries about the business merging with another. Ball never applied for copyright but his design became iconic and was printed onto thousands and thousands of buttons. With designs as simple as this however, nothing remains uncomplicated as far as legal copyright is concerned. Charlie Alzamora, a director of New York's WMCA radio station, stated that his station designed it, in 1962. Callers to the radio, whose DJ's were known as 'Good guys', quoting, "WMCA Good Guys," were sent a yellow sweatshirt emblazoned with the Smiley Face, and the logo 'WMCA good guy'. There's an image on the internet of Mick Jagger wearing the shirt, an odd look for one of the original bad boys of rock.

In 1970, brothers Bernard and Murray Spain used the logo on cups, T shirts etc., attached to the phrase, "Have a happy day", which metamorphosed into the American idiom, "Have a nice day.". Despite knowing they didn't create it, the brothers took credit for the design on 'What's My Line' in 1971.

Franklin Loufrani, a French journalist acquired copyright upon his version, in 1972, and created an entire company, The Smiley Company in 1996. His 'face' was used to let readers know which of the stories in the France-Soir newspaper had a feel-good content. Unfortunately, Walmart had been using it's own Smiley Face since 1990, and in 2001 took the Smiley Company to court. It took ten years to finally settle out of court for an undisclosed sum in 2011.

In 1999 Harvey Ball created World Smile Day, the first Friday of October, to re-assert his original message, countering what he thought was corporate exploitation of a simple happy face. After all, he'd only made it to cheer up workers who thought they were going to lose their jobs. Ball was paid only £45 for the design.

Today, Loufrani's SmileyWorldLtd has a turnover of around £205M. :-)? Or :-( ?