Skip to Content

From Happy Faces to Emoji

smiley face

Who remembers the original “smiley” or “happy” face? Before anyone thought of emojis, Harvey Ross Ball, a graphic designer, was asked to make an icon that could lift employee morale. Within 10 minutes Ball came up with a yellow circle, two black dots for eyes, and an arc for a mouth. Ball was paid $45 for his work. You might think that’s good pay for 10 minutes of doodling in 1963. In 2019 that $45 became $376.

Within months, those smiley faces were everywhere – on buttons, note pads, and stickers. They were such a constant image of happiness, they became downright irritating. I had a supervisor once who gave out smiley faces instead of actual verbal encouragement.

Anyway, in 1972 a Frenchman named Franklin Loufrani launched a similar image, trademarked the design, and founded The Smiley Company which became a multinational corporation. In 1997 Loufrani wanted to register the trademark face in the U. S., and ran into a conflict with the WalMart Happy Face on Roll Back Prices signs and employee vests. In 2002 the issue went to court, and was settled eight years later.

Enter the Emoticon

Emoticon for happy face

The next ubiquitous Happy Face was an emoticon, a sideways picture derived from a colon, dash, and closed parentheses mark that began appearing with the rise of email.

Emoticons weren’t the first punctuation mark faces. In 1881 Puck Magazine published four faces and called them typographical art: Joy, Melancholy, Indifference, and Astonishment. All the expressions were made from type, and all of them lacked emotion.

Triumph of the Emojis

As we moved into the digital age, we continued to use typeface emoticons and actual words. But something was lacking. In 1999, Japanese artist Shigetaka Kurita was on the development team for the mobile internet platform of Japan’s main mobile carrier. He envisioned an illustrative interface that could convey information in a simple way. For example, instead of writing out partly sunny with some rain, show a picture.🌦

Kurita developed 176 emoji emphasizing symbols. The weather might call for sun 🌞or clouds ☁️ or remind you to take an umbrella ☔️. Or it might add warmth to a message with a heart ❤️.

In 2009 developers submitted an official proposal to the Unicode Consortium to include 625 new emoji characters into the Unicode Standard. It’s a lengthy process, but by 2014 the Great Emoji Politicization had begun. Food emoji represented foods from different cultures, for example, a taco 🌮, or a bento box 🍱. In 2015, it became possible to change skin tones on people emojis.

emoji face with tears of joy
Emoji with Tears of Joy

In 2012 Apple iOS 6 gave iPhone owners an emoji keyboard. The term emoji entered the Oxford English Dictionary the following year. And in 2015 the Oxford Dictionary named the emoji “face with tears of joy” 😂 Word of the Year as the word best reflecting the ethos, mood, and pre-occupations of the 2015. Emojis were part of our daily language.

I, personally, haven’t progressed much beyond the Smiley Face 😀 and I still “spell” out “LOL” instead of using the symbol 🤣 which technically translates as “rolling on the floor laughing face.” Nevertheless, I like emoji. They’re fun, expressive, and often efficient.

New emojis come out all the time. Here are the 117 Emojis for 2020.



Smiley face by en:User:Mystic

Emoji face with tears of joy by Twitter

“Oxford Dictionaries 2015 World of the Year is an Emoji.” PBS. Nov. 17, 2015.

“The Wired Guide to Emoji.” Wired. Feb. 1, 2018.

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra’s latest book, Saxon Heroines: A Northumbrian Novel, is available in eBook and print editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Google Play and Kobo. Her previous books Two Coins: A Biographical Novel and Rama’s Labyrinth: A Biographical Novel are available in print and eBook editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Google Play and Kobo, and in audiobook editions at Amazon, Nook, Audible, Apple Books, and Kobo. Two Coins is narrated by Deepti Gupta and Noah Michael Levine. Rama’s Labyrinth is narrated by Deepti Gupta.

Sandra blogs weekly about topics related to her travels, writing life, and the incongruities of life in general.


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.