Could you imagine your life before emoji existed? Well, let's see... we think LOL without 🤣 would be less funny, and thanking people without 🙏🏼 at the end of the sentence also feels... less gratitude. And really, these days, all you need is ❤️ or 🤗 to show your affection towards your closest people. Isn't that super convenient?

In general, we think emoji has played a huge portion on our everyday's texting lives. One single emoji can represent our emotions, circumstances, moods, or any other feelings or expressions we'd like to describe. It's the real epitome of "no words needed".

In celebration of the World Emoji Day tomorrow, we're dedicating this post to trace back the journey of emoji's birth. Created in 2014 by Emojipedia founder Jeremy Burger, the idea of the celebration actually comes from the calendar emoji 📅 which shows the date "July 17". Now, it's mainly used to announce new release of emojis.

So, are you ready to celebrate the origin of emoji–which apparently–dates way back in the 19th century? Here's a quick throwback for the day!

The first intended and unintended emoticons

The New York Times turns out to be the one that paved the history of emoji. In August 1862, they printed a copy of speech transcription by President Abraham Lincoln, and guess what? There's a :) emoticon on the text. Funny as it seems, it was expected to be a misprint.

But in 1881, an American satirical magazine Puck included real emoticons as a part of their Typographical Art issue, published on 30 March. Using typography, it portrayed several emotions: joy, melancholy, indifference, and astonishment.

Four emoticons described in Puck magazine's Typographical Art issue.
Emoticons in Typographical Art | Photo: The FontGear Blog

From Kaomoji frenzy to emojis

In 1986, kaomoji was considered a thing in Japan. Using the katakana character set, it's a representation of human's expressions that particularly focuses on the eyes instead of the mouth. That's how the 1990s is on a high rise in the use of emoticons, especially for text messaging.

Example of different types of Japanese kaomoji.
Several types of kaomoji | Photo: Suki Desu

However, it's not until 1999 that we understand the first emojis that we know today. Shigetaka Kurita, a Japanese artist, created the first 176 emoji while he worked for i-mode, a mobile internet service company in Japan.

It all started from Kurita's thoughts. He wanted to design an attractive yet simple way to deliver information. Let's think of it this way. Instead of typing "camera", which obviously requires more effort to do so, people can instead use 📷. And it applies to any other words as well.

Starting from that idea, Kurita created a set of 12 x 12 pixel images that work like texts, appearing on the keyboards for i-mode users. It consists of several categories of characters, including the weather, traffic, technology, and moon. Now, you can see Kurita's set of emoji at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

The first set of 176 emojis made by Shigetaka Kurita, a Japanese artist.
The first emojis made by Kurita | Photo: Design is Fine

Giant tech companies & Unicode-approved

After its establishment, emoji became highly-popular and commonly used in Japan. Nearly a decade later, some giant tech companies also felt the urge to adopt emoji into their operating systems.

In 2007, Google became the first one to incorporate emoji into their e-mail service, Gmail. Partnered up with KDDI AU, it was a part of their effort to expand their presence in Japan and Asia. The next year, Google released their own 79 animated emoji for Gmail as well, but can only be used exclusively for Japan's top three telecom carriers users.

At the same year, Apple also launched their own version of emojis in November 2008. It was made available on their iOS 2.2 update for SoftBank users in Japan. However, it was also accessible in other countries through other apps in the App Store.

It may have taken years, but with Unicode approving emoji into their Unicode Standard in 2010, each emoji finally has its own dedicated block and made accessible worldwide.

Just a little bit of background, Unicode is an encoding system that represents every language and character in our keyboard. Hence, the fact that emoji is a part of Unicode is quite a big leap for

Precisely on 2011, emoji finally made it into Apple keyboard on its iOS 5 update. Two years later, Android joined the game, making emoji accessible on their keyboard as well.

The first emoji looks on Apple's iOS 5.
Emojis on iOS 5 | Photo: 9to5Mac

Emoji today: The development & diversity

To date, emoji has become as important as keyboard texts. Be it in texts, captions, or even articles (just like us 👀), we often slip emoji to add more color into the words we type.

Due to its immense popularity, emoji was even adapted into a movie called The Emoji Movie in 2017. At the same year, Facebook revealed that around five billion emoji were sent each day in Messenger. Five billion. Crazy, we know.

Along the development of Apple's iOS, emoji also continues to evolve. iOS 11, for example, which was released in 2017, introduced face-tracking emoji called Animoji. It enables users to create custom animated emoji using their own face.

Video: chase (YouTube)

But not long after, Samsung also followed the same way, created their own AR Emoji for their Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus in 2018. Today, the feature is also compatible with more Samsung series.

Interestingly, emoji also comes in different shapes these days, becoming more diverse and inclusive in society. It all began in 2015, where people can use five different skin tones.

Example of emoji with five different skin tones.
Photo: NPR

Then, the following years, Unicode also released an emoji of a woman wearing hijab in 2016 and emoji that represent disabilities, gender neutral couples, and cultural symbols in 2019.

In a nutshell...

As of 2020, around 3,000 emojis have been added into the emoji block, and we do believe that it will keep developing along with the upcoming trends. Spoiler alert: this year's emojis are going to be a lot more fun as we will likely have 107 new emojis, including the popular finger heart – a hand gesture popularized by K-Pop idols.

In Assemblr, we're all emoji lovers! That's why we have our own version of emojis that you can add into your own projects. To access, just open your project, choose Image, and tap on the 🙂 icon on the bottom. Might be a great idea to celebrate this year's World Emoji Day as well!


In Assemblr EDU, we believe that everyone can transform education to be more fun and interactive, using augmented reality technology. Interested to unveil more possibilities for your learning activities? Download Assemblr EDU now, available in App Store and Play Store!