If you were to keyword search “United States Army”, “Silver Star” and “World War II”, you’ll find among a long list of recipients the name of “Ball, Harvey A. HQ, 45th Infantry Division, G.O. No. 281”.
Harvey Ball earned the silver star medal “for Conspicuous Gallantry in Action” in 1945, during the battle for Okinawa. He went on to serve most of his life in the United States Army Reserve, retiring with the rank of Colonel, in 1979.
Twenty years later, Colonel Ball was awarded the “Veteran of the Year” award from the Veterans Council of his home town of Worcester, Massachusetts. Yet, if we think of Harvey Ball, it is probably not for his military service.
Harvey Ross Ball worked for a sign painter while attending Worcester South High School, and went on to study fine arts at the Worcester Art Museum School.
After the war, Ball came home to Worcester and worked for a local advertising firm, later opening his own ad agency, Harvey Ball Advertising, in 1959.
In 1963, Worcester’s State Mutual Life Assurance Company (now Hanover Insurance) bought out the Guarantee Mutual Company of Ohio. Employee morale had plummeted at the new acquisition, and Director of Promotions Joy Young was tasked with solving the problem. She hired Harvey Ball as a freelance artist to create a visual icon. A pin to be worn as part of the company’s ‘friendship campaign’.
First came that silly grin. The pair quickly realized that the button could be inverted, and we can’t have “frowny” faces walking about, can we. Ball added eyes, the left drawn slightly smaller than the right, to “humanize” the design.
The work took about ten minutes and the artist was paid $45, equivalent to $330 today. Neither Ball nor State Mutual Felt it necessary to copyright the graphic.
From Betty Boop to the hula hoop, popular culture is always primed and ready to dive into the latest fad. State Mutual ordered 100 buttons. Before Long, manufacturers were taking orders for thousands at a time.
Philadelphia brothers Bernard and Murray Spain seized on the image seven years later, producing millions of coffee mugs, t-shirts, watches and bumper stickers, emblazoned with the happy face and the slogan “Have a happy day”, later revised to the ever present, “Have a nice day”.
The image was everywhere, second only to the ubiquitous “Peace Sign”.
Frenchman Franklin Loufrani copyrighted the image in France in 1972, using it to highlight the “good news” section of the newspaper France Soir.
Loufrani’s son Nicolas took over the family business, launching The Smiley Company in 1996. The younger Loufrani is skeptical of Harvey Ball’s claim to have created such a simple design, pointing to cave paintings found in France dated to 2500BC, and a similar graphic used in radio ad campaigns, of the early ’60s.
Of course, that didn’t prevent the company from seeking US trademark rights to the image, kicking off a years-long legal battle with retail giant Wal-Mart, which had been using the happy face in its “Rolling Back Prices” campaign.
The Smiley Company is one of the 100 largest licensing corporations in the world with revenues of $167 million in 2012, the year that BBC Radio produced the documentary “Smiley’s People”, broadcast on February 4.
The artist didn’t seem to mind, that he never copyrighted his Smiley Face. Harvey Ball is gone now, but his son Charles says his father never was a money driven kind of guy. “Hey”, he would say, “I can only eat one steak at a time. drive one car at a time”.
In the 2009 film “Watchmen” characters fly to Mars, landing in a crater that looks like a Smiley Face. The red planet really does have such a place. It’s called the Galle crater.
In June of 2010, Wal-Mart and the Smiley Company settled their 10-year-old legal dispute in Chicago federal court. The terms of the settlement are confidential, and the judges words as he lowered the gavel, are unknown to this writer. I so want to believe he told all those lawyers, to “have a nice day”.