In 1963, State Mutual Life Assurance Company in Worcester faced a problem. The Worcester-based firm had purchased Guarantee Mutual Company of Ohio the previous year to work with Worcester Mutual Fire Insurance Company, a State Mutual subsidiary.
Low employee morale in the merged companies prompted State Mutual Vice President John Adam, Jr. to suggest a "friendship campaign." He asked Joy Young, Assistant Director of Sales and Marketing, to develop something.
Young turned to Worcester freelance artist Harvey Ball, requesting he create a little smile to be used on buttons, desk cards and posters. Ball drew a smile but, not satisfied with the result; he added two eyes, making a smiley face. The whole drawing, he recalled later, took ten minutes. He was paid $240 for the entire campaign, and never received any further profit from his smiley face design.
Today, State Mutual is Allmerica Financial, and Worcester Mutual Fire Insurance is no longer a subsidiary of State Mutual. Now called Worcester Insurance Company, it still uses the smiley face on its promotional material.
The smiley face attained a life of its own well beyond the company's walls. Harvey Ball's design sparked a fad that swept the nation in the early 1970s. By 1971, smiley face was the hottest selling image in the country: an estimated fifty million smiley buttons alone had been sold, and the image appeared on countless other products as well.
Eventually, smiley's popularity began to wane, and by the mid-1970s the fad was over. The image never entirely disappeared though, and began to make a significant comeback in the late 1980s, with the resurgence of sixties-and seventies-inspired symbols, fashions, and music. Smiley's popularity continues today, its appeal both universal and enduring.