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The Smiley Face - Brief History of a Acid House icon

Acid House icon, corporate logo or message board and mobile phone short cut emoticon the smiley face has been smiling at us and making us happy since the 60's summer of love.   Below we give you a little history of how the Smiley Face got to be where it is today:

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The Smiley first seems to have appeared in the early 60's  and has evolved in meaning and designs since then including the creating of the iconic Fantazia logo itself. 

The origin of the original Smiley Face design is contested but it seems that it appeared first in 1963 on an American TV programme for kids called The Funny Company.   A crude smiley face was used as the children's club logo and was also featured on their caps and slogan of the show was "Keep Smiling".

Separately around the same time a commercial artist from Worcester, Massachusetts, called Harvey Ball designed a simple Smiley for the local State Mutual Life Assurance which wanted to start a "friendship campaign" to brighten up their staff's demeanour towards their customers (the town of Worcester is apparently a very depressing place).

Harvey was only paid $45 for the 10 minutes of work it took to create the design and neither the company nor he copyrighted the design, which is why its exact origin remains  open to question (David Stern from Seattle also claims to have designed the original).

It could however been that both were inspired from a more generic generation of children's doodles.

These designs however were not quite the classic smiley which arrived into popular culture in the 1970's.  The one we all recognise with perfect circle, 2 vertical oval eyes and upturned large semi circular mouth.  The choice of sunshine yellow background giving it a radiant happy feeling of a spring day.

From September 1970 the smiley exploded into popular culture when a pair of brothers from Philadelphia, Murray & Bernard Spain, designed the classics Smiley design and used it to sell novelties adding the American mantra "have a nice day".  Over 50 million Smiley badges were apparently sold.  The design went on to be sold on keyrings, coffee mugs, earrings, stickers, etc, the Smiley plugged into the post Vietnam, American public mood and desire to move forward in positive way.

The Smiley face was the perfect positive feel good icon and began to be adopted by sub  / counter culture.  In May 1972 comic magazine Mad used the Smiley on its front cover but with the features of Alfred E Neuman, showing how the face could be adapted to give it subtler undertones and meanings.

Acid HouseDC comics planned a series called Prez in 1973.  The comic about the first teen President featured a sinister use of the Smiley in the figure of Boss Smiley, leader of an ultra-right wing militia.  The child like smiley face was ripe for warping into other messages.  Evil would be made to look even more sinister by its blank stare.

These uses of the smiley continued in the lates 70's being taken forward and used by punk.  Mutilated the smiley was used on the cover of the UK 12-inch of the Talking Head's Psycho Killer album.

In 1979 Blob Last and Bruce Slesinger used the smiley behind a collage of American Governor Jerry Brown in a Nuremburg style rally  on the cover of the Dead Kennedy's Uber Alles.

The Smiley Face featured strongly in the counter  culture booked released in 1986 "Watchman" (soon to be a movie).   It is a visual metaphor  for the narrative that examines failure, guilt, compromise and megalomania which all lead ultimately to an unhappy demise.

It was in early 1988 that the smiley face exploded once again into popular culture and remained there.   Bomb The Bass released the first reference to Watchmen, with a blood stained smiley face logo on the cover of the record Beat Dis.  Tim Simenon also used the Smiley repeatedly in his video for his hit Don't Make Me Wait (Summer 88).

Its first use as an advertisement for a dance music club was DJ Danny Rampling putting it on the flyer for his club Shoom (the fore runner for all rave clubs and events).  He had apparently got the idea from designer Barnzley at the Wag Club wearing a shirt covered "in a lot of smiley faces".

Within no time the Smiley Face had caught on sweeping  the country as the logo of Acid House.  As the music evolved it went from dream state symbol to a counter culture image for the underground scene and its associated drug ecstasy.  The Sun newspaper classical used the Smiley in its front page headline "Evil of Ecstasy".  

In 1991 Fantazia was founded and took the smiley face and made it their own with the classic Fantazia Smiley face logo that was at the heart of the biggest raves the UK has ever scene and is still being used to this day. 

Simple to draw in either outline or coloured in ravers took the image and drew it on everything from school books, to t-shirts, clothes, letters and more, even tattooing it in many cases.

Other uses in music continued out side of acid house / rave with Nirvana using crossed out eyed version with a drooling mouth on their famous "Corporate Rock Whores" T-shirt.

The Smiley has become a cultural phenomenon that we look for every where and quite often find even in nature.  In February 2008 photos of planet Mars showed a Smiley face formation on the planets surface.

Copyright for such a famous and familiar symbol  has surrounded the Smiley face.  In the early 1970's Frenchman, Franklin Loufrani registered the trademark as Smiley World in some European countries and event beat a trademark case against the mighty American corporation WalMart.

Today the digital world uses the smiley extensively featuring many versions in email messages and forum bulletin boards, its use is unlikely to go away any time soon... where next for the Smiley?


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