When we talk to each other these days, emojis are a big part
of what we say. Whether we use them on social media to convey emotions or in a
text for a shortcut, they have become essential to modern communication.
There are crying faces, sleepy faces and laughing-while-rolling-on-the-floor faces. So many
to choose from, and for so many feelings. And then there’s the basic smiley face: the OG emoji, if you will. How did the smiley get its start, though?
The smiley face has a long history beyond texting or social
media. The smiley as a basic line drawing goes back -- way back -- to cave paintings found circa 1700 BC in Turkey, and also sporadically found in correspondence
from 1635, again in 1741 and still in 1900. But those were crude renditions and
not the yellow and black smiley we’ve come to know.
That smiley was born in 1963, created by Harvey Ross Ball, a
graphic artist in Worcester, Mass. State Mutual Life Assurance Company
commissioned Ball (for the sum of $45) to create a graphic so their employees
would remember how to smile after a series of stressful mergers and acquisitions. It took
Ball no time at all -- 10 minutes, actually -- to craft the classic yellow smiley with a black curved line
for a mouth and two dots for eyes, and an icon was born.
The company slapped the yellow smiling circle on a button, and it took off from
there, beyond just employees.
But then, the design got stolen by the Spain brothers, Bernard
and Murray of Philadelphia. They took the shape and added the slogan “Have a
Happy Day” and copyrighted it, selling 50 million buttons. That slogan would
later change into “Have a nice day.”
Meanwhile, in France in 1972, journalist Franklin Loufrani registered the mark for a good news column in France Soir, a newspaper. He then
launched the Smiley Company, which is still one of the top licensing companies
in the world.
Loufrani's son Nicolas took over the company in 1996 and registered the
mark in 100 countries. In the U.S., Smiley scuffled with WalMart, who frequently
uses the face in advertising, but the two eventually settled out of court.
While the yellow smiley was growing in popularity, another
form of it was taking shape. In 1982, Scott Fahlman at Carnegie Mellon
University proposed that a sideways smile, :-), be used to signify a joke
on the Internet.
In 1997, Smiley created animated faces to correspond to
emoticons made from plain punctuation. They created the Smiley Dictionary,
which allowed people to insert smileys into emails and chats.
At this point, the all-text symbols and the yellow smileys were merged. While modern phones use what’s called Unicode to make emojis, not the
Smiley Dictionary, Smiley’s work was licensed to Nokia, Motorola, Samsung and
more in the early days of texting.
Maybe Lourfrani didn’t invent the smile
emoji as we know it, but he definitely took it farther than the smiley face has
ever gone before.
The next time you see that ubiquitous smiley face donning a grocery
bag or in a text from your friend, you can smile yourself, knowing you know a
piece of the little guy’s history. Have a nice day!