Harvey Ball

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Harvey Ball
Harvey Ross Ball

(1921-07-10)July 10, 1921
DiedApril 12, 2001(2001-04-12) (aged 79)
Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.[1]
EducationWorcester South High School; Worcester Art Museum School
OccupationCommercial artist
Known forDesigner of the smiley face
Notable workSmiley face

Harvey Ross Ball (July 10, 1921 – April 12, 2001) was an American commercial artist. He is recognized as the designer of a popular smiley face graphic picture, which became an enduring and notable international icon.[2] He never applied for a trademark for the iconic smiley image and only earned $45 for his efforts. Ball later founded the World Smile Foundation in 1999, a non-profit charitable trust that supports children's causes.

Early life[edit]

Ball was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, by his parents Ernest G. Ball and Christine ("Kitty") Ross Ball.[3] Ball had five siblings, three younger by the names of Merrit, Virginia, and Raymond, and two older by the names of Jessie and Ernest Jr.[4] During his time as a student at Worcester South High School, he became an apprentice to a local sign painter, and later attended the Worcester Art Museum School, where he studied fine arts.

State Mutual and the creation of The Smiley[edit]

After World War II, Ball worked for a local advertising firm until he started his own business, Harvey Ball Advertising, in 1959. He designed the smiley in 1963.[5][citation needed]

The State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Massachusetts (now known as Hanover Insurance) had purchased Guarantee Mutual Company of Ohio. The merger resulted in low employee morale. In an attempt to solve this, Ball was employed in 1963 as a freelance artist, to come up with an image to increase morale. Ball started with a sunny-yellow circle containing a smile, however wasn't happy that it could be turned upside down to make a frown. By adding two eyes, he created a smiley face.[6] The whole drawing took 10 minutes to complete, and earned him $45.[7][8]

State Mutual had planned to hand out 100 button pins containing the design, however demand quickly soared.[7] The aim was to get employees to smile while using the phone and doing other tasks. Research has since taken place confirming Ball's instincts.[9] The buttons became popular, with orders being taken in lots of 10,000. More than 50 million smiley face buttons had been sold by 1971,[10] and the smiley has been described as an international icon.[11]

By 1971 the smiley face was everywhere, so Ball contacted patent attorneys, who told him the design was now in the public domain. Ball said: "It never bothered me. I figured if I make the world a little happier, OK, fine".[7] Ball's son, Charles, is reported to have said his father never regretted not registering the copyright. Telegram & Gazette reported Charles Ball as saying "he was not a money-driven guy, he used to say, 'Hey, I can only eat one steak at a time, drive one car at a time.'"[5][citation needed]

Popularity of the smiley[edit]

Ball (seated) at a public signing, 1998

The phrase "Have a happy day" became associated with the smiley although it was not part of Ball's original design. Philadelphian brothers Bernard and Murray Spain designed and sold products with the phrase and logo in the early 1970s. They trademarked the combination and later changed the phrase to "Have a nice day", which itself has become a phrase in everyday use in North America.

The smiley was introduced to France in 1972 as a signal of a good news story in the newspaper France-Soir. Frenchman Franklin Loufrani used the image this way and made swift moves to trademark the image. As of 2013, the company turns over $100 million a year[10] and became embroiled in a copyright dispute with Walmart over the image in the 1990s.[12]

The BBC broadcast a radio documentary on February 4, 2012, called Smiley's People that covered the story of the smiley.[12]


A plaque honoring Harvey Ball and his contribution to the Smiley Face at Boston's Logan International Airport

On July 18, 1998, around the 35th anniversary of the design's inception, Ball appeared at That's Entertainment to meet fans and sign smiley pins and art. At this appearance Ball was shown copies of the graphic novel Watchmen issue number 1, which featured a notorious image of a smiley face with a splatter of blood across it.[13] Store Manager Ken Carson was quoted as saying Ball seemed amused to see it on the cover.[14]

World Smile Foundation[edit]

Ball founded the World Smile Foundation in 1999, a non-profit charitable trust that supports children's causes. The group licenses Smileys and organizes World Smile Day, which takes place on the first Friday of October each year and is a day dedicated to "good cheer and good works". The catchphrase for the day is: "Do an act of kindness – help one person smile."[15][16]

Death and legacy[edit]

Ball died on April 12, 2001, as a result of liver failure following a short illness. He was 79. He left behind his wife of 54 years, Winifred Trudell, and four children.[17]

The land that was owned by the Ball family, off Granite Street in Worcester, was purchased by the City of Worcester in June 2007, with help from Mass Audubon and a $500,000 grant from the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs' Division of Conservation Services. This property links Mass Audubon's Broad Meadow Brook Sanctuary with the developing Blackstone River Bikeway. It is now known as the "Harvey Ball Conservation Area" and is home to the appropriately named "Smiley Face Trail".

Distinguishing features of a Worcester-made smiley face

Distinguishing features of Ball's smiley face[edit]

A Harvey Ball smiley face can be identified by three distinguishing features: Narrow oval eyes (with the one on the right slightly larger than the one on the left), a bright sunny yellow color, and a mouth that is not a perfect arc, which has been claimed to be similar to a "Mona Lisa Mouth".[10] The face has creases at the sides of the mouth, and the mouth is slightly off-center (with the right side a little higher than the left) and the right side of the mouth is slightly thicker than on the left.


  1. ^ Woo, Elaine (April 14, 2001). "Harvey Ball; Created 'Smiley Face' Design". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 18, 2020.
  2. ^ Honan, William H. (April 14, 2001). "H. R. Ball, 79, Ad Executive Credited With Smiley Face". The New York Times. p. C6.
  3. ^ Massachusetts Archives Vital Records, Birth of Harvey R Ball, 1921, vol. 144, p. 120.
  4. ^ "United States Census, 1930," database with images, FamilySearch. Retrieved May 10, 2018, Ernest G Ball, Worcester, Worcester, Massachusetts, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 109, sheet 20B, line 75, family 287, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 971; FHL microfilm 2,340,706.
  5. ^ a b Melady, Mark (April 13, 2001). "Harvey Ball Dies". Telegram & Gazette. Worcester, Massachusetts: Available from NewsBank: America's News – Historical and Current. p. A1. ISSN 1050-4184.
  6. ^ Dempsey, Jim (July 7, 1996). "WHO DUNNIT? Harvey Did". Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Retrieved December 9, 2022.
  7. ^ a b c KAUFFMAN The Hartford Courant, MATTHEW (September 26, 1988). "FRENCH SMILEY BRINGS FROWN TO U.S. CREATOR". The Hartford Courant. SUN-SENTINEL. Retrieved December 9, 2022.
  8. ^ Doug Lennox , illustrated by Catriona Wight (2004), Now You Know More: The Book of Answers, Now You Know, vol. 2 (illustrated ed.), Dundurn, p. 50, ISBN 9781550025309
  9. ^ Li, Ding (April 2, 2014). "What's the science behind a smile?". Voices. www.britishcouncil.org. Archived from the original on December 5, 2016. Retrieved June 26, 2022. A Swedish study found that it is indeed difficult to keep a long face when you look at people who are smiling at you. Smiling is just contagious! Seeing people smile stimulates our mirror neurones to suppress our facial muscle control, and trigger a smile. 'You smile, I smile' is actually a scientific fact!
  10. ^ a b c Stamp, Jimmy (March 13, 2013). "Who Really Invented the Smiley Face?". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved May 17, 2016.
  11. ^ "World Smile Day | Blog | The Humble Co". The Humble Co. Retrieved September 29, 2020. In fact, the commonly known smiley face is considered a symbol of goodwill and good cheer on our planet; an international icon.
  12. ^ a b "BBC Radio 4 - Smiley's People".
  13. ^ Watchmen, DC, 1986 series, entry in the Grand Comics Database, includes picture of cover with the smiley
  14. ^ Semon, Craig S. (March 6, 2009), "Smiley face connection", Worcester Telegram, Worcester, Massachusetts: New York Times Company, ISSN 1050-4184, archived from the original on July 27, 2009
  15. ^ "World Smile Day, celebrated yearly, has its roots in Worcester". WFXT. October 5, 2018.
  16. ^ "About World Smile Day®". www.worldsmileday.com.
  17. ^ "Obituary for Harvey R. Ball". Rice Funeral Home. April 14, 2001. Retrieved July 18, 2020.