A brief history of the internet’s most famous meme image that we’ve now made into a boredom-busting 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle!
Ah, the noughties... what a decade! Flip phones were on their first time around, thanks to Heelys you'd never be late for school, and life tasted a whole lot better because of Kellogg’s cereal straws. What a time to be alive!
Plus, we can credit this decade with the advent of the internet meme.
At this point in time, memes were a pretty crude entity. They hadn’t evolved into the side-splittingly hilarious art form they are today (see Drakeposting and Distracted Boyfriend). These were just straight-up candid portrait photos that went by equally simple names. It was a sort of “say what you see” criteria.
During all this, though, there was one meme to rule them all (the Lord of the Rings trilogy also came out in the noughties, FYI). It was Success Kid. If you don’t know what that is, I’ll assume you’re over 40, or under 20. The Success Kid meme is a photo of a baby on the beach with his fist clenched. And it’s usually accompanied by overlaid text saying something went better than expected.
Countless iterations of this meme have been shared over the years and in several different languages.
But where did the meme come from?
The year was 2007. The location was a sandy Florida beach. Mum Laney Griner papped a photo of her 11-month-old son Sammy eating a fistful of sand and uploaded it to Flickr with the title, “I hate sandcastles”.
The photo gained initial popularity because people thought little Sammy had just destroyed a sandcastle. But it wasn’t long before the interpretation of the photo shifted, thanks to Sammy’s facial expression and his clenched fist, seemingly in self-congratulation.
It led to others adding their own captions to the photo, ones that boasted of small personal victories or good fortune. The photo had taken on a whole ‘nother meaning. And it’s one that mum Laney preferred over everyone thinking young Sammy was some kind of Hulkesque sandcastle smasher.
The Success Kid meme was born
Laney Griner was smart. After briefly flirting with Getty Images, she decided to license the photo herself. It was copyrighted in 2012 and following that she began licensing the photo to various advertisers.
Success Kid soon appeared on ads for Vitamin Water and Virgin Mobile UK. He was in such high demand that by 2013 Laney had to hire a manager to take care of this rapidly growing enterprise. Presumably, he had to strap on a pair of Heelys to keep up with the demand.
The image went on T-shirts for Hot Topic and Radioshack and even appeared as an X-Box screensaver. It was also licensed to the Obama administration for use on an immigration reform campaign.
Like John Lennon in the 1970s, Success Kid had crossed the void from art to politics.
A couple of years later, it was harnessed to do more good meme work. Sammy’s father Justin was in critical need of a kidney transplant, and Laney created a GoFundMe campaign to pay for the procedure.
They needed to raise $75,000. However, Laney was reluctant to draw on the popularity of the meme in favour of focusing on her husband’s medical needs. But following a change of heart, the campaign quickly got the funding it needed ($83,000 in total). And that’s proof Success Kid meant more to people than just a cute photo and a silly caption.
This level of popularity brought with it its own challenges, though. Some people wanted to use the image on the sly, without due permission or license. This included such freeloaders as a fireworks company and US Republican Representative Steve King. Laney quickly cracked down on these though, suing one and issuing a cease-and-desist to the other.
So what’s Sam doing now?
He’s in his mid-teens, he loves skateboarding and he’s a talented artist. Check out this painting he did…
Sam also shows a huge amount of maturity for his age. As well as the huge shot in the arm it gave his dad’s GoFundMe campaign for a kidney transplant, he sees the positive impact Success Kid has had on many people’s lives.
He said in an interview: "I'm very thankful for everybody who has helped us and everybody who uses the picture. A lot of nurses and doctors use it to get through the day. I'm very happy that people who save others' lives are using my picture when I was doing nothing but eating sand."
Well said, Sam.
Success Kid Puzzle
Taking joy from the little things in life is an ethos we share at Bubblegum Stuff. It’s why we went to Laney to license the Success Kid meme for our new Success Kid Puzzle. It’s a 1000-piece boredom buster that features our very own caption on the world-famous meme image.
It makes a great gift for a friend or relative to spread the Success Kid joy. But why not pick one up for yourself? And when you complete it, don’t forget to pump your fist in self-congratulatory Success Kid style.