The smiley face is so much a part of our culture that it seems as if it has been around forever. It hasn’t. It was created in 1963 and flowed from the creativity of commercial artist Harvey Ball.
Ball was tasked with coming up with some kind of image to help boost sagging morale at the State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Massachusetts. Ball labored over the assignment for less than ten minutes, and when he was done, the smiley face had been born. Listen to a BBC radio documentary, Smiley’s People, about the creation of the icon here.
Ball received $45 for his work (about $350 in 2015 adjusted-for-inflation value). He did not copyright or apply for a trademark for this seemingly-simple design. Within 8 years more than 50 million smiley face buttons had been sold around the world.
Ball died on April 12, 2001 at the age of 79 — presumably with a smile on his face because of the happiness he added to the world.