Ball was based in Asia and the Pacific during World War II and was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism during the Battle of Okinawa. He served 27 years in the National Guard, retired as a Brigadier General in 1973 and then served six years in the Army Reserves. He retired as a full colonel in 1979. Ball was awarded the Veteran of the Year award from the Worcester Veterans Council in 1999.
After World War II, Ball worked for a local advertising firm until he started his own business, Harvey Ball Advertising, in 1959. His design of the Smiley came about in 1963. 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 create a smiley face to be used on buttons, desk cards, and posters. In less than ten minutes the smiley face was complete.
The use of the smiley face was part of the company's friendship campaign whereby State Mutual handed out 100 smiley pins to employees. The aim was to get employees to smile while using the phone and doing other tasks. 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, and the smiley has been described as an international icon.
Ball never applied for a trademark or copyright of the smiley and earned just $45 for his work (US $315 in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars). State Mutual, similarly, did not make any money from the design. 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'".
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. His company now turns over $100 million a year and became embroiled in a copyright dispute with Walmart over the image in the 1990s.
The World Smile Corporation was founded by Ball in 1999. The Corporation licenses Smileys and organizes World Smile Day. World Smile Day raises money for the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation, a non-profit charitable trust that supports children's causes. World Smile Day is held on the first Friday of October each year and is a day dedicated to "good cheer and good works". The catch phrase for the day is "Do an act of kindness - help one person smile".
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