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Here’s The Fascinating History of the Smiley Face Emoji

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Whether you’re a technology buff or not, you likely know what an emoji is. These cartoon images are an essential part of texting in the 21st century. Whether signing off a funny message or adding a bit of flair to a sweet sentiment, emojis are a tool to convey emotion and humor in texting, email, and more. But where exactly did the original smiley face emoji begin? Believe it or not, it all started back in the 60s when a man named Harvey Ball produced the original smiley face drawing. Across the years, it began to morph and develop into the treasured emoji that we know and love today.

Where it all began

Harvey Ross Ball produced the original smiley face without thinking that it would be an international hit decades after he sketched it. Ball, a graphic artist, was hired by the State Mutual Life Assurance Company to produce an image that would encourage employees to smile more frequently during a time of workplace chaos. He drew the smiley face in less than 10 minutes, reaping a mere $45 for his artwork. While company morale may not have shot up, the popularity of Ball’s smiley face sure did, getting printed on buttons, posters, and more. Although Ball never copyrighted the design, claiming that he wasn’t a man of money, his smiley face continued to gain traction in pop culture. Soon, more than just company workers took notice of the unique drawing.

The evolution of the smiley face

The role of the yellow smiley face began to evolve through the 60s, 70s, and 80s, serving as a symbol of joy and peace on pop art, shirts, and posters. The smiley became a symbol of optimism and ecstasy to many. However, Ball never claimed copyright to the now-famous grinning yellow circle. Fortunately, someone did step in to promote the commercialization of the smiley: Franklin Loufrani. Loufrani, a French journalist, was money driven, and he attached his smiley drawing to his positive newspaper stories with tremendous reaction. Finally, he decided to copyright the smiley and began to make bank off of selling anything he could with the image printed on it. He decided to call his grinning face the simple name, “Smiley.” He started up the Smiley Company, selling t-shirt transfers to those who wanted to carry the positive symbol around with them. Luckily, the smiley company did more than produce clothing and prints. Despite being created in a time before cell phones were ever developed, Loufrani’s Smiley Company played a big role in the production of the 21st-century emoji.

Becoming an emoji

Do you ever wonder who took the simple smiley face symbol to the interweb? Scott E. Fahlman, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon, was the person who sparked the concept that would later become an emoji. He thought that it would be neat to have a visual way to indicate funny and non-joking text messages, particularly by closing them out with a smiley face or sad face. When Shigetaka Kurita, a Japenese interface designer, began to send out emoji-like cartoons in his company messages, he essentially invented the original emoji. He used a 12-by-12 grid to produce pixel images like hearts, laughing faces, and of course, the iconic smiley face. While emojis hung around in Japan for nearly a decade, Loufrani’s son, Nicolas, was hard at work at the Smiley company replicating the concept of emojis. He created a staggering 470 emojis in the plan of 1999, licensing them out to phone companies for a fee. At long last, in 2010, emojis hit the international stage, with 722 emojis being released on iPhone and Android. These days, in the age of frequent cell phone use, nearly 3,000 emojis are available on our devices. While it’s difficult to imagine a world without emojis now, the smiley face emoji has come a long way to get to the screens in our hands.

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