A Short History on the 40th Anniversary - 2003
by Ken Cates, Bitwise Gifts
The irresistible smiley face flowed from the pen of Harvey Ball, a graphic artist in Worcester, Massachusetts. The year was 1963. Harvey was hired by the State Mutual Life Assurance Company to design a logo that would uplift its employees after a company merger had hurt company morale. The logo was to accompany a "friendship campaign" that the company came up with to encourage employees to smile as they went about their work or interacted with customers.
Thinking about what would inspire employees to smile, Harvey decided the most simple and direct symbol would be a smile itself and that is what he drew. A simple smile, and two eyes, not too perfect, but appealing in its simplicity. He made the background yellow, like a bright cheery sun. Harvey was paid a $45 fee for his timeless creation.
State Mutual originally ordered 100 button pins with the logo for its employees, but the symbol became so popular with workers, customers, and agents, that they were soon ordering them by the thousands. The smiley face has now become a cultural icon. Later in life, Harvey said, "Never in the history of mankind or art has any single piece of art gotten such widespread favor, pleasure, enjoyment, and nothing has ever been so simply done and so easily understood in art."
The original button pin was actually rather tiny, only 7/8 inches across, made of metal, and with a straight pin on the back. The backside had the wording: "The SMILE insurance companies, WORCESTER MUTUAL, GUARANTEE MUTUAL, STATE MUTUAL OF AMERICA." State Mutual is now Allmerica Financial. Worcester Mutual Fire Insurance is now called Worcester Insurance Company and still uses the smiley face design on its promotional material.
Harvey Ball continued in his graphic arts career. But over the years, he realized that the smiley face symbol had become overly commercialized, losing much of what he had originally embodied in the symbol. The smiley face seemed to make people "feel good". But that is not what Harvey intended. He wanted it to inspire people to act, to perform good deeds that would benefit others. He wanted it to inspire the best in people. He felt that everyone has the capacity to make a positive difference in the world, no matter how small. This is the personal attitude that would change the world and would be a fulfillment of his original symbolic message. It is the philosophy with which he lived his own life.
To put the smiley face symbol back on track, Harvey created the World Smile Corporation (WSC) in 1999. He explained, "Smiley has become so commercialized that it’s original message of spreading good will and good cheer has all but disappeared. I needed to do something to rescue and restore that message." To inspire individual involvement, Harvey created the World Smile Day celebration each year in October. The slogan for World Smile Day is "Do an act of kindness – help one person smile!" Individuals, businesses, and organizations are encouraged to participate. The first World Smile Day was celebrated October 1, 1999 in Worcester, MA, and has been celebrated annually since then, becoming a worldwide event today.
Simultaneous with the first World Smile Day celebration, the United States Postal Service issued a special stamp in 1999, honoring the cultural icon status that the smiley face had attained.
Sadly, Harvey Ball passed away in 2001 at age 79. When he created the World Smile Corporation, he specified that all after-tax profits would be given to charities that focus on the needs of children. After his death, the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation was established for that purpose while honoring Harvey’s name and memory. Harvey had a special place in his heart for children. Harvey said, "If our children learn early the power of a smile and a kind act the whole world will be a better place."
Photographs used with permission of World Smile Corporation
Harvey Ball surrounded by schoolchildren during the World Smile Day 2000 celebration. The event has been very popular in schools across the country.