A smiley (sometimes simply called a happy or smiling face) is a stylized representation of a smiling humanoid face, an important part of popular culture. The classic form designed in 1963 comprises a yellow circle with two black dots representing eyes and a black arc representing the mouth (). On the Internet and in other plain text communication channels, the emoticon form (sometimes also called the smiley-face emoticon) has traditionally been most popular, typically employing a colon and a right parenthesis to form sequences like :^), :), or (: that resemble a smiling face when viewed after rotation through 90 degrees. "Smiley" is also sometimes used as a generic term for any emoticon. The smiley has been referenced in nearly all areas of Western culture including music, movies, and art.

The plural form "smilies" is commonly used,[2] but the variant spelling "smilie" is not as common as the "y" spelling.[3]


The poet and author Johannes V. Jensen was amongst other things famous for experimenting with the form of his writing. In a letter sent to publisher Ernst Bojesen in December 1900 he includes both a happy face and a sad face, resembling the modern smiley.

A commercial version of a smiley face with the word "THANKS" above it was available in 1919 and applied as a sticker on receipts issued by the Buffalo Steam Roller Company in Buffalo New York. The round face was much more detailed than the one depicted above, having eyebrows, nose, teeth, chin, facial creases and shading, and is reminiscent of "man-in-the-moon" style characterizations.

Ingmar Bergman's 1948 film Port of Call includes a scene where the unhappy Berit draws a sad face – closely resembling the modern "frowny", but including a dot for the nose – in lipstick on her mirror, before being interrupted.[4] In 1953 and 1958, similar happy faces were used in promotional campaigns for the films Lili and Gigi.

The smiley was first introduced to popular culture as part of a promotion by New York radio station WMCA beginning in 1962. Listeners who answered their phone "WMCA Good Guys!" were rewarded with a "WMCA good guys" sweatshirt that incorporated a happy face into its design. Thousands of these sweatshirts were given away.[5][6][7] The WMCA smiley was yellow with black dots as eyes, but it had a slightly crooked smile instead of a full smile, and no creases in the mouth.[7]

As per Smithsonian, the smiley face as we know it today was created by Harvey Ross Ball, an American graphic artist.[8] In 1963, Harvey Ball was employed by State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Massachusetts (now known as Hanover Insurance) to create a happy face to raise the morale of the employees. Ball created the design in ten minutes and was paid $45 (equivalent to $330 USD in 2012 currency). His rendition, with bright yellow background, dark oval eyes, full smile and creases at the sides of the mouth,[7] was imprinted on more than fifty million buttons and was familiar around the world. The design is so simple that it is certain that similar versions were produced before 1963, including those cited above. However, Ball’s rendition, as described here, has become the most iconic version[6][9]. The irony, of course, is that Worcester, MA has a Quality of Life Index score of 43.[10] In 1967, Seattle graphic artist George Tenagi drew his own version at the request of advertising agent, David Stern. Tenagi's design was used in an advertising campaign for Seattle-based University Federal Savings & Loan. The ad campaign was inspired by Charles Strouse' lyrics in Put on a Happy Face from the musical Bye Bye Birdie. Stern, the man behind this campaign, incorporated the Happy Face in his run for Seattle Mayor in 1993.[9]

The graphic was further popularized in the early 1970s by Philadelphia brothers Bernard and Murray Spain, who seized upon it in September 1970 in a campaign to sell novelty items. The two produced buttons as well as coffee mugs, t-shirts, bumper stickers and many other items emblazoned with the symbol and the phrase "Have a happy day" (devised by Gyula Bogar),[2] which mutated into "Have a nice day". Working with New York button manufacturer NG Slater, some 50 million happy face badges were produced by 1972.

In 1972, Frenchman Franklin Loufrani became the first person to legally trademark the smiley face. He used it to highlight the good news parts of the newspaper France Soir. He simply called the design "Smiley" and launched the Smiley Company. In 1996 Loufrani's son Nicolas took over the family business and transformed it into a huge multinational corporation. Nicolas Loufrani was outwardly skeptical of Harvey Ball's claim to creating the first smiley face. After all, the design that his father came up with and Ball's design were nearly identical. Loufrani argued that the design is so simple that no one person can lay claim to having created it. As evidence for this, Loufrani's website points to early cave paintings found in France (2500 BC) that he claims are the first depictions of a smiley face. Loufrani also points to a 1960 radio ad campaign that reportedly made use of a similar design.[2]

In the UK, the happy face has been associated with psychedelic culture since Ubi Dwyer and the Windsor Free Festival in the 1970s and the electronic dance music culture, particularly with acid house, that emerged during the Second Summer of Love in the late 1980s. The association was cemented when the band Bomb the Bass used an extracted smiley from Watchmen on the centre of its Beat Dis hit single.

In text

One of the first uses of the smiley in text may have been in Robert Herrick's poem To Fortune (1648),[2] which contains the line "Upon my ruines (smiling yet :)". Journalist Levi Stahl has suggested that this may have been an intentional "orthographic joke", but this interpretation of the punctuation is disputed, and there are citations of similar punctuation in a non-humorous context, even within Herrick's own work.[2] It is likely that the parenthesis was added later by modern editors.[2]

On the Internet, the smiley has become a visual means of conveyance that uses images. The first known mention on the Internet was on September 19, 1982, when Scott Fahlman from Carnegie Mellon University wrote:

As the digital age evolved the need for smileys that were easily understood across all cultures gave birth to the emoji.[19]

The smiley is the printable version of characters 1 and 2 of (black-and-white versions of) codepage 437 (1981) of the first IBM PC and all subsequent PC compatible computers. For modern computers, all versions of Microsoft Windows after Windows 95[2] can use the smiley as part of Windows Glyph List 4, although some computer fonts miss some characters, and some characters cannot be reproduced by programs not compatible with Unicode.[3] It also appears in Unicode's Basic Multilingual Plane.[3]

Unicode smiley characters :
U+263AAlt+1White Smiling Face
U+263BAlt+2Black Smiling Face
Unicode also contains the "sad" face:
U+2639White Frowning Face

Licensing and legal issues

The rights to the Smiley trademark in one hundred countries are owned by the the Smiley Company.[3] Its subsidiary SmileyWorld Ltd, in London, headed by Nicolas Loufrani, creates or approves all the Smiley products sold throughout the world. The Smiley brand and logo have significant exposure through licensees in sectors such as clothing, home decoration, perfumery, plush, stationery, publishing, and through promotional campaigns.[3] The Smiley Company is one of the 100 biggest licensing companies in the world, with a turnover of US$167 million in 2012.[3] The first Smiley shop opened in London in the Boxpark shopping centre in December 2011.[3]

In 1997, Franklin Loufrani and Smiley World attempted to acquire trademark rights to the symbol (and even to the word "smiley" itself) in the United States. This brought Loufrani into conflict with Wal-Mart, which had begun prominently featuring a happy face in its "Rolling Back Prices" campaign over a year earlier. Wal-Mart responded first by trying to block Loufrani's application, then later by trying to register the smiley face itself; Loufrani in turn sued to stop Wal-Mart's application, and in 2002 the issue went to court,[3] where it would languish for seven years before a decision.

Wal-Mart began phasing out the smiley face on its vests and its website[3] in 2006. Despite that, Wal-Mart sued an online parodist for alleged "trademark infringement" after he used the symbol (as well as various portmanteaus of "Wal-", such as "Walocaust"). The District Court found in favor of the parodist when in March 2008, the judge concluded that [Wal-Mart's] smiley face [logo] was not shown to be "inherently distinctive" and that it "has failed to establish that the smiley face has acquired secondary meaning or that it is otherwise a protectible trademark" under U.S. law.[3]

In June 2010, Wal-Mart and the Smiley Company founded by Loufrani settled their 10-year-old dispute in front of the Chicago federal court. The terms remain confidential.[4]