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Smiley: The tragic story of its inventor, Harvey Ball

Harvey Ball's invention - the smiley face - made the whole world laugh. But the story behind the smiling face is almost tragic, because Ball didn't get rich with his invention.

The story of the smiley begins in 1963. Designer Harvey Ball, who founded his own company in 1959, receives an order from the insurance company "State Mutual Life Assurance Cos. Of America". Ball's task: Design a button that motivates employees to smile while they work.

His design is simple but effective: within ten minutes he draws a yellow circle, places two points and another "smiling" semicircle in it. The smiley was born. Ball's fee: $ 45. A starvation wage given the huge success of the small button. The original 100 copies for insurance employees will become 50 million buttons by 1971.

The smiley made others rich

But there is a catch: Ball had not secured a patent for the smiley. Apart from the 45 dollars for the original design, the designer does not get any money, he does not get rich from his invention. Instead, the French journalist Franklin Loufrani registered a design for the stylized smile in France in 1996, making him a millionaire. Its design differs from the original mainly in the changed proportions.

In 1999 Ball founded the "World Smile Foundation" and fought for recognition as the true father of the smiley. The organization sells licensed smiley products and donates the money to charitable organizations. However, he has never regretted the financial loss, as his son, Charles Ball, revealed in several interviews. His father was not a money-driven man. He always said: "You can only eat one steak at a time and only drive one car at a time."

Harvey Ball died on April 12, 2001 at the age of 79. But his eternally smiling smiley and the smiles of the children who are helped by his organization have far outlived his death.