The Smiley-An American Icon

Making of the BONNY smiley
Making of the BONNY smiley

This painting by myself, Bonnie Marie, illustrates my initial attempt at creating a "new" smiley for my sugar cookies back in the 1980's. How is that for serious artwork?  But alas, there was success at last!

Smiley Cookies on Baking Sheet
Smiley Cookies on Baking Sheet

I painted this happy occasion of my new smiley cookie being developed (in the middle) among the traditional 1970's-style smiley cookies.  Mine tasted better.

                                              FUN HISTORY lesson One

Without history, we have no present.  Without a present, we have no future.  Understanding the history behind something adds an interesting dimension to the present   With that said, I wish to share the history of an important American cultural icon which has become an international symbol of happiness: the Smiley Face.

According to’s definition and history, the smiley face  is  “a round happy cartoon-like image, often black-on-yellow, a symbol of peace and joy. The smiley face represents the American spirit of friendship, happiness and peace.”
The story goes like this:

“In the early 1960's, State Mutual Life Assurance of Worcester, MA initiated a merger that had bad effects on company morale. In 1964, State Mutual cooked up a “friendship campaign” to get employees to smile whenever they answered the phone, paid a claim, or typed a report. The company turned to Harvey Ball for graphic support. Ball reported that he spent about 10 minutes designing the smiley face, and he was paid $45 for it.    

The smiley face craze was the work of two brothers in Philadelphia, Bernard and Murray Spain, who were in the business of making would-be fad items. In September of 1970, they drew up a smiley face and added the words "Have a nice day," and copyrighted the image and words. Soon they and their many imitators were cranking out buttons, posters, greeting cards, shirts, bumper stickers, cookie jars, earrings, bracelets, key chains, and many other items. In the early 1970s, the smiley face image became a symbol for an entire generation of Americans, emerging as one of the most well-known images in the country.  The fad lasted about a year and half; The number of smiley buttons produced by 1972 was estimated at 50 million.

With that history laid out before you, I’d like to add that Mr. Ball obviously had one of those genius “Minimailst Art Epiphanies” that any commercial artist wishes would rush through their very paintbrushes and splatter simple perfection upon their blank, lonely canvas (even if their canvas is a computer). In fact, I DID have a moment like this one day in the early 1980’s when I was about 12 or 13 years of age.  With all due respect to Mr. Harvey Ball for originally bringing his sunny yellow, happy ball of sunshine into our lives, here’s MY BONNY smiley story:

The BONNY™ Smiley (my logo and the basis for all my cartoon faces) started out as a humble sugar cookie in the early 1980’s.  I decided at that time to create a different smiley from the original 1960’s version, with two purposes in mind:
1) Give the face more personality and a sweeter smile.
2) Create a smiley that would use more chocolate frosting on the cookie, as everyone knows that’s the best part.  

Unlike Mr. Harvey Ball’s 10 minute drawing, I drew and redrew my vesion for about 20 minutes, which, to a kid anxious to start baking her sugar cookies and more anxious to eat them, felt like an eternity.  Making eyes with pupils rather than just solid ovals allowed for more expression in the face while the large, chocolate nose added lots of chocolate in the center of the cookie.  As far as those original smileys with the dimples?  I think dimples are cute on kids but not on smileys so I made a smaller, gentler smile line without dimples.  Most of the time, BONNY™ smileys retain their chocolate brown features and sunshine yellow face but do venture into other color combos. I respectfully like to think of my version as a more modern, expressive symbol of happiness, hope and hopefully, silliness.



Do you like smileys?  Do you or have you ever owned something with a smiley on it that made or makes you smile? It could be something you bought or made yourself. Let's spread some smiles by sharing silly smiley stories.


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