A yellow circle, two dots and a semicircle – and the world-famous smiley is born. Inventor Harvey Ball doesn’t want a lot of bells and whistles; he thinks a nose is unnecessary.

Since the birth of this idea 60 years ago – the exact day of its invention is not known – the symbol has been printed on album covers, T-shirts and mugs. Providers of communication apps are still inspired by the design today. Despite this popularity, the inventor only receives a small fee. For your big birthday, some facts about the yellow smiling face.

The birth of the smiley: In 1963, freelance artist Harvey Ball was commissioned to design a smiling face for an insurance company. This is intended to be printed on pins, cards and posters. The goal is to make employees laugh while they work.

Ball gets to work. He draws a circle, colors it yellow and puts two dots in it, the eyes, and a semicircle, the mouth. Less than ten minutes later the smiley was ready.

Huge success for little money: The company distributes 100 smiley badges to its employees. The yellow face is well received. That’s why the company is ordering another 10,000 units. By 1971, more than 50 million were sold. The smiley becomes a symbol known worldwide.

$240 for inventing the smiley face

And what does inventor Ball get out of it? At least not that much financially. He never files a trademark or copyright for the design. For the entire campaign, he only received 240 US dollars (the equivalent of around 223 euros today) and was not involved in any further profits.

There are now tons of products for sale featuring the face: from mugs to t-shirts to bedding. Bands like Nirvana use it in a slightly different way as a kind of logo, and many people immortalize it as a tattoo on their skin.

From smiley to foundation: Harvey Ball founded the company World Smile in 1999. Among other things, this organizes World Smile Day – World Emoji Day. On the day, money is collected for the Harvey Ball Smile Foundation, which supports child welfare. This day takes place annually on the first Friday in October and the motto is: “Do something good – help someone smile”.

First smiley discovered 4,000 years ago: Not round and not yellow, but still smiling, a smiley appears on a clay jug that is around 4,000 years old. In Karkamis, Turkey, near the Syrian border, researchers are excavating the jug from the Hittite period. What you can see on it: two eyes and a curved mouth. The find is considered to be the oldest smiley to date. As lead archaeologist Nicolò Marchetti noted in 2017, the vessel was intended for a sweet fruit drink.

The first digital smiley in the “New York Times”: As early as 1862, readers of the “New York Times” were probably able to find a smiley in the form of “;)” in the newspaper for the first time – in an article about a Speech by President Abraham Lincoln.

A typo? Experts note that newspaper texts at the time were composed of individual matrices – so volatility can actually be ruled out. Historians examine how semicolons and dial characters were used in the mid-19th century. There is no unanimous opinion as to whether the Lincoln text is really a wink.