The “original” smiley face was drawn in 1963 by commercial
artist Harvey Ball for a campaign to boost morale among
employees brooding over an ominous merger at State
Mutual Life Assurance of Worcester, Massachusetts.
Ball’s fee: $45.
By the early 1970s, the smiley had become a ubiquitous
peace icon-cum-cheerleader, thanks to Bernard and Murray
Spain, two brothers from Philadelphia who made fortunes
off their sundry smiley products (50 million buttons alone
were sold). Sales spiked when the Spains gave voice to their
cash cow, bestowing its enduring exhortation: “Have a Nice
Day!” Ball, who never made another cent off his design, was
said to have found the expression “insipid.”
But of course Ball’s wasn’t the very first smiley. This smiley
petroglyph was found in Frijoles Canyon, New Mexico,
where the Pueblo Indian culture dates back 3,000
years. Millennia of drought, relocation, conquest,
and now this: For the past decade or so Native-American
activists have fought and mostly lost a series of battles
against new commuter highways linking suburban developments
to downtown Albuquerque—built right alongside
the Petroglyph National Monument, home to 20,000 sacred
Mars’s Galle Crater, better known as the “Happy Face
Crater,” photographed by the Mars Global Surveyor Orbiter
in 1999. Wrought by a meteor, it’s about 134 miles across.
(According to NASA’s website, “It looks like Mars is happy
to see us!”) Current NASA funding for the Spaceguard
Survey, the primary means of earth’s defense against asteroids
and comets: $4 million per year. Estimated cost for
George W. Bush’s man-on-Mars space initiative: $500 billion
to $1 trillion.
The emoticon, first posted on an online bulletin board in
1982 by Scott Fahlman, a computer scientist at Carnegie
Mellon University, was invented as a way to indicate humor or sarcasm. Who knew digital epistles would turn out to be
so much funnier than their paper forebears? “It didn’t seem
like a big deal at the time,” Fahlman reflects. Today, anecdotal
evidence suggests that more blossoming love affairs have
been called off over one party’s horror at discovering the
other’s use of emoticons than over differences on abortion,
political affiliation, and capital punishment combined.
And who can forget the “smiley face bomber,” Luke Helder,
the 21-year-old art student arrested in 2002 for planting
18 pipe bombs in mailboxes across the US heartland?
Having set off the eyes in Nebraska and on the Iowa/Illinois
border, he had just begun the mouth in Colorado and Texas
when he got caught. The pipe bombs, which produced injuries
but no deaths, were delivered along with a photocopied
anti-government rant signed “Someone Who Cares.” The
name of his rock band—Apathy—notwithstanding, Helder
was invariably described by friends as “cheerful.” Indeed,
pictures show him grinning widely while being escorted
between jail and court, finishing off that smile one way
Remarkably protean, the smiley serves infinite happy
If Harvey Ball’s son, Charlie Ball, has his way, the smiley
will soon adorn every license plate in Massachusetts—or at
least 1,500 of them. Since March 2003, Ball fils has been on
a mission to gather the 1,500 applications Massachusetts
DMV requires to produce a specialty plate. According to
smileyplate.com [link defunct—Eds.], by mid-January 2005, Ball had 1,002
applications in hand. “Just 498 to go!” Bay State residents
take note: You just might make this a happy ending after all.
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