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November 10, 2021

Harvey Ross Ball: The Man Behind the Famous Smiley Face Symbol

Harvey Ross Ball (July 10, 1921 – April 12, 2001) was an American commercial artist. After World War II, Ball worked for a local advertising firm until he started his own business, Harvey Ball Advertising, in 1959. He designed the smiley in 1963.


The State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Massachusetts had purchased Guarantee Mutual Company of Ohio. The merger resulted in low employee morale. In an attempt to solve this, Ball was employed in 1963 as a freelance artist, to come up with an image to increase morale. What he created was a smiley face, with one eye bigger than the other. In less than ten minutes, Harvey Ball came up with the simple yet world-changing smiley face. The simplicity of the image brought smiles to the faces of the executives, who paid him $45 (about $400 today) for his creation.

“I made a circle with a smile for a mouth on yellow paper, because it was sunshiny and bright,” he later told the Associated Press.


The use of the smiley face became part of the company’s friendship campaign whereby State Mutual handed out 100 smiley pins to employees. The aim was to get employees to smile while using the phone and doing other tasks. The buttons became popular, with orders being taken in lots of 10,000. More than 50 million smiley face buttons had been sold by 1971, and the smiley has been described as an international icon.

Ball never applied for a trademark or copyright of the smiley. State Mutual, similarly, did not make any money from the design. Ball’s son, Charles, is reported to have said his father never regretted not registering the copyright.


The phrase “Have a happy day” became associated with the smiley although it was not part of Ball’s original design. Philadelphian brothers Bernard and Murray Spain designed and sold products with the phrase and logo in the early 1970s. They trademarked the combination and later changed the phrase to “Have a nice day”, which itself has become a phrase in everyday use in North America.

The smiley was introduced to France in 1972 as a signal of a good news story in the newspaper France Soir. Frenchman Franklin Loufrani used the image this way and made swift moves to trademark the image. His company now turns over $100 million a year.


Ball founded the World Smile Foundation in 1999 a non-profit charitable trust that supports children’s causes. The group licenses Smileys and organizes World Smile Day, which takes place on the first Friday of October each year and is a day dedicated to “good cheer and good works”. The catchphrase for the day is “Do an act of kindness - help one person smile”.

Harvey Ball died on April 12, 2001 as a result of liver failure following a short illness. He was 79.




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