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I have always loved the smiley face.  Its cheery, happy, yellow smile brings happiness wherever it goes.  If my life could have a logo, I think it might be the smiley face. (My theme song is Don’t Worry, Be Happy and my motto is “Oh well!”)  There – I’ve claimed it!

smile mon souvenir tshirt from the bahamas
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Thanks to the power of the internet I can show you this shirt! I bought a shirt just like it when my ship visited the Bahamas enroute to Norfolk. It’s the perfect combination of my life logo – the smiley face – and my life theme song – Don’t Worry, Be Happy! I wish I still had that shirt…

I was driving through Albuquerque last month on the way back to the airport and a billboard caught my eye.  It was a collection of emoji faces.  It made me wonder – where did original smiley face come from? And how did it evolve to the world of emojis we have now?

emoji box with smiley face pillows inside
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So many emojis! But I have to say, the smiley face ones are my favorite.

History of the smiley face

Surprisingly, the answer to where the smiley face came from is very simple and clear-cut.  I was expecting some sort of murky history with various claims made about who really invented it.  What I found though was a relatively uncontroversial answer.  Harvey Ball, a graphic artist from Worcester, Massachusetts, drew the smiley face as an in-house morale campaign for an insurance company in December 1963.  As jobs go, it was a pretty quick one.  After all, black circle filled with yellow, two oval eyes, and a dimpled smile –  the original smiley face – doesn’t take long to make.  The quickness and simplicity of this smiley face is one of my favorite features.  I’m not much of an artist myself but I can draw a smiley face!

Harvey Ball only made $45 from his art.  That’s how much the insurance company paid him for his approximately 10 minutes of work.  Not a bad hourly rate, right?  It’s what happened a few years later that brought the smiley his fame and gave others a fortune.

Bernard and Murray Spain, two brothers from Philadelphia, started the smiley face craze in 1970.  They were in the business of creating fads and happened upon the smiley face as a symbol of peace with more general appeal than the regular peace sign.  The fad took off. By 1972, 50 million smiley buttons had been made.

The smiley face wasn’t registered for commercial use until 1972 when the French journalist Franklin Loufrani started using it to mark unusually good news in the newspaper.  He nicknamed it “Smiley”, trademarked it in 100 countries, and launched the Smiley Company.  As you can imagine, the Smiley Company continues to make a lot of money each year.

details of Harvey Ball smiley faces from Worcester, Massachusetts
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Here it is – all the detail you need to recreate the original Harvey Ball smiley face!

What about emojis?

Emojis were invented in 1998 by Shigetaka Kurita in Japan. The company he worked with had a 250-character limit for messages and he thought a picture would help communicate while still limiting character and data usage.  Kurita was inspired by kanji and manga.  The word emoji literally means “picture” (e) “character” (moji).  Would you like to see the original emojis?  Check this CNN article about Kurita.  You know that I like the smiley faces but any guesses about which emoji is Kurita’s favorite?  It’s the heart. ♥

Emoticons vs emojis

Emoticons and emojis serve the same purpose.  The difference is that emoticons are made with regular characters like this:  ” :-)” whereas an emoji is an actual picture. Like this:  😁

Special characters have been used to convey meanings in text for hundreds of years but their modern use was first suggested by Scott Fahlman in a Carnegie Mellon message board in 1982.  The first emoticons he suggested…  ” :-)”  for funny and ” :-(”  for not funny.

I’m not an early adopter of technology so I definitely used emoticons for quite awhile before my devices caught up and included emoji options.  In 2010 emojis were standardized by unicode which meant they could be identified regardless of what device or platform was in use.  Which explains why I used to get crazy monster faces in my text messages when a friend sent an emoji from their iPhone.  My android phone didn’t recognize the emoji. No more monster faces now except on purpose!  (Funny story – I was trying to use emoticons in the previous paragraphs but thanks to Unicode, they automatically became emojis.  I had to add quotation marks around the emoticons to keep them as text.)

As of the end of August 2018, there were 2,789 Unicode emojis.

two smiley face pals sitting on a bench
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You have to smile when you see these happy faces!

A brief history of the smiley face
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Websites visited: article about the Smiley face

CSPAN video about history of Harvey Ball smiley face

Wonderopolis emoji article history of emoticons and smileys

Full emoji list on Unicode

Interesting Facts about Emojis

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