In the early 1960's, State Mutual Life Assurance of Worcester, Massachusetts merged with a small Ohio insurance firm. Trying to ease tensions, the company initiated a "friendship campaign" and commissioned a commercial artist, Harvey Ball, to create an accompanying graphic. The result was the freehand-drawn smiley face. Ball was paid $45 for his work, and the symbol was printed on 100 buttons.

                 ,agd""'              `""bg,
              ,gdP"                       "Ybg,
            ,dP"                             "Yb,
          ,dP"                                 "Yb,
         ,8"                                     "8,
        ,8'           ,db,         ,db,           `8,
       ,8'            8.88         8.88            `8,
       d'             8888         8888             `b
       8              8888         8888              8
       8              `YP'         `YP'              8
       8          ,                       .          8
       8        .9,                       ,P.        8
       Y,      '" Ya                     aP "'      ,P
       `8,         "Ya                 aP"         ,8'
        `8,          "Yb,_         _,dP"          ,8'
         `8a           `""YbbgggddP""'           a8'
          `Yba                                 adP'
            "Yba                             adY"
              `"Yba,                     ,adP"'
                 `"Y8ba,             ,ad8P"'

Its popularity grew over the years, helped along by the fact that Ball never registered a trademark for it. By the 1970's it was plastered over almost everything imaginable - buttons, posters, underwear, and illicit drugs. In 1999, the United States Postal Service issued a smiley face stamp to commemorate the 1970's.

However, Franklin Loufrani, a Frenchman, registered a trademark for the symbol in 1971 and now holds the trademark in most of the world. Through his company, London-based Smiley Licensing Corp., he has threatened to sue to enforce the trademark. Ball never initiated legal action against Loufrani, but was upset that Loufrani claimed to be the symbol's inventor. Ball died on April 12, 2001 at the age of 79, after having initiated World Smile DayTM (yes, it's trademarked) in 1999 to restore its message of spreading good will.

That may certainly be the original intent, but the ubiquitous symbol's simplicity creates a polysemy. Taken in its original 1960's meaning, it would be goofily campy today. Through time it has morphed into a dispassionate "duh." It tells us to find happiness, be happy. What an utterly mindless, if not cheery, message. As a tautology it certainly fits in with pop culture.