February 4, 2012 Have a Nice Day

From Betty Boop to the hula hoop, popular culture is always primed and ready to dive into the latest fad.

140px-Silver_Star_medalEstablished by act of Congress on July 9, 1918, the Silver Star is the third-highest decoration is the system of military honors, awarded to members of US armed services for valor in combat against an enemy of the United States.  A search of public records reveals a long list of recipients of the Silver Star including the name “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 in 1979 with the rank of Colonel.

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.2981c

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, the State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester (now Hanover Insurance) bought out the Guarantee Mutual Company of Ohio.  Employee morale tanked with the new acquisition.  Director of Promotions Joy Young was tasked with solving the problem.  Young 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’.

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Harvey Ball, surrounded by his own creation

First came the silly grin. That part was easy but the pair soon realized, the button could be inverted.  Now we’ve got a “frowny” face and we can’t have that. Ball added eyes, the left drawn just a little smaller than the right, to “humanize” the image.

The work took ten minutes and the artist was paid $45, equivalent to $330 today.  Neither Ball nor State Mutual Felt the need 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.  It wasn’t long before manufacturers were taking orders for thousands at a time.

Philadelphia brothers Bernard and Murray Spain seized on the image seven years later and produced millions of coffee mugs, t-shirts, watches and bumper stickers, emblazoned with the happy face and the slogan “Have a happy day”.  It was 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 graphic in France in 1972, using the image in the “good news” section of the newspaper France Soir and developing a line of imprinted novelty items.  Loufrani’s son Nicolas took over the family business and launched the Smiley Company, in 1996.

Unsurprisingly, 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 1960s.

Of course, that didn’t prevent the company from seeking US trademark rights to the image and kicking off a years-long legal battle with retail giant WalMart, 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, holding rights to the Smiley Face in over 100 countries. Notably, the United States is not one of them.

As for Harvey Ball, he didn’t seem to mind that he never copyrighted his Smiley Face.  The artist is gone now but Ball’s 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”.

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The Galle Crater, on Mars

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 words of the judge as he lowered his gavel, are unknown to this scribe.

I so want to believe the man told all those lawyers, to “have a nice day”.

March 23, 1839 OK

The random and silly teenage fad of the era, went unrecorded. Dad doesn’t mention if the kid was eating goldfish, sagging his toga or doing a Chinese fire drill around the chariot. That particular silliness would wait for another day

Two thousand years before Romulus and Remus founded the Roman Republic, Nomadic bands of hunters and gatherers established the world’s oldest civilization in the fertile valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. They called it “Sumeria”.

wri-lit-pre-islam-03-detail100 years ago, “Sumerologists” labored to learn the customs and ways of this ancient civilization. One such team pieced together a stone tablet and, through years of study, managed to decipher the cuneiform words contained thereon.

Turns out it was a father, 5,000 years ago, bitching about his son. The kid won’t work, he’s disrespectful, and he hangs out with the wrong kind of people. If he isn’t borrowing the chariot, all the kid wants to do is drink wine and lie around the house. These kids today.

The random and silly teenage fad of the era went unrecorded. Dad doesn’t mention if the kid was eating goldfish, sagging his toga or doing a Chinese fire drill around the chariot. That particular silliness would wait for another day, but one thing is certain.  The random enthusiasms peculiar (though not exclusive) to youth, are as old as history itself.chinese-fire-drill

In the 1830s, it was a favorite practice in younger, more educated (and probably bored) circles, to intentionally misspell words, and abbreviate them when talking to one another. As always, holding the key to the code meant the difference between being with the “in crowd”, and everyone else. As teenagers today have their own slang based on distortions of common words: “Awks” means that’s awkward, “YOLO” means You Only Live Once, and “BFF”, means Best friends forever, the in-crowd of the 1830s had a whole vocabulary of abbreviations.

On March 23, 1839, the initials “O.K.” were first published in The Boston Morning Post. This particular abbreviation stood for “Orl Korrekt.”  All correct.  Other popular slang of the era included “KY” for “No use” (“Know Yuse”), “KG” for “No Go” (“Know Go”), and “OW” for all right (“Oll Wright”).martin-van-buren

The expression got a boost in the Presidential election of 1840, during the re-election campaign of democrat Martin van Buren, also known as “Old Kindherhook”, after the village of his birth.

The others dropped from use, probably around the same time that parents figured them out, but OK steadily made its way into the speech of ordinary Americans. I found myself texting it, just the other day.

There’s a lesson in here somewhere, IMHO, for anyone raising a teenager. And for the kid who thinks he/she’s the first in all recorded history, to ever (fill in the blank). LOL.