Harvey Ball: All Smiles

Birth of a Ball

Born in Worcester, Massachusetts on July 10, 1921. Ball became an apprentice sign painter while attending Worcester South High School. After school, he studies fine arts at Worcester Art Museum School.

War Time

Serving in Asia and the Pacific during World War II, Ball was awarded the Bronze Star for Heroism. Ball served in the National Guard for the majority of his life, retiring in 1979.

The Beginning

Harvey Ball: All SmilesAfter the war ended, he began working for an advertising company and started his own company, Harvey Ball Advertising. Harvey was contacted by State Mutual Life Insurance Company in his home town of Worcester in 1963. Promotional Director Joy Young wanted to boost morale after her company bought out competing Guarantee Mutual Insurance Company of Ohio. She wanted a design that would bring together the two companies as one.

Harvey Bell was hired to create a design that would fit on buttons. Ball sketched the simple design of the smiley face on the eye catching yellow background. Ball’s first attempt was just the smile, but he thought that people would misunderstand it as a frown because it could be turned around to look like it. He decided to add eyes to the smile and to add a human aspect to the drawing, he made the left eye bigger than the right. Harvey was paid $45 for the smile.


In what seems like a mistake, Ball nor the insurance company bothered to copyright the smile design. State Mutual Life Insurance produced 100 buttons for their employees. When the employees started wearing them, clients wanted to purchase the smiley buttons. They started producing mass quantities of the infectious talisman.


Bernard and Murray Spain added the tag “Have a happy day” to the smile in 1970’s and copyrighted the logo after changing the tag to “Have a nice day”. The Spain brothers capitalized big on the fad that lasted over two years. They sold fifty million buttons.

Walmart tried to copyright the smiley after using it since 1996. After ten years in court, they were told they could not own the iconic symbol.

Around the time of the Smiley Face’s 35th anniversary, Ball attended the “That’s Entertainment” comic shop meet and greet and noticed a copy of the graphic novel Watchmen issue #1 that featured his iconic Smiley Face with a bullet hole and blood. He was said to have been amused by the picture.

Harvey Ball said that the smiley’s original message has been lost in translation. His idea was to spread cheer and good will had disappeared. He formed the “World Smile Corporation” to retaliate the negative impact his smile had turned into. The “World Smile Corporation” promotes “World Smile Day” every first Friday in October.


Harvey Ball passed away at the age of 79 on april 12, 2001 of liver failure. The State Mutual Life Insurance Company, now known as Worcester Mutual Fire Insurance still uses Harvey’s Smiley Face to this day.

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