Smiley Face

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Smiley Face

The sunshine yellow circle with the smile on it became an American cultural icon (symbol) in 1970. Harvey R. Ball (1921–2001) of Worcester, Massachusetts, created the smiley face for the State Mutual Life Assurance Companies of America (now Allamerica). Originally, the symbol was used to boost morale at the recently merged insurance companies. But by 1970, two brothers—Bernard and Murray Spain—of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, recognized the commercial potential of the smiley face and began producing buttons, bumper stickers, shirts, cards, and other novelties with the symbol on them. Within a year, more than fifty million smiley face buttons had been sold.

Ball never applied for a copyright or a trademark for his design and made a total of $45 for it. The Spain brothers made considerably more as they cashed in on the height of the smiley face's popularity. The smiley face continues to be used. It is featured in advertisements for Wal-Mart (see entry under 1960s—Commerce in volume 4), and in 1999, the U.S. Postal Service issued a smiley-face stamp.

—Sara Pendergast

For More Information

"Creator of Smiley Face Icon Dies at 79." (accessed April 1, 2002).

"Smiley Face: A Short Documentary by Chris Sheridan." (accessed April 1, 2002).

World Smile Corporation. (accessed April 1, 2002).

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