The Hidden History of Mr. Macintosh

Mr-Macintosh-smIn the early 1980s before the famed Picasso style line drawing of a computer became the Macintosh logo, the graphic was going to be a totally different concept. Owen Linzmayer discusses the original effort in his 2004 book Apple Confidential 2.0:

Long before the Mac was complete, Steve Jobs had become quite taken with the work of Belgian-born poster artist Jean-Michel Folon and paid him an advance of $30,000 to design a logo to represent the new computer. Folon came up with a character he called Mac Man and depicted him in a color pastel drawing called “The Macintosh Spirit”

I got to thinking about this old logo again after purchasing one of these Mr. Macintosh buttons on eBay. The seller worked in Apple sales during the early Mac days, and received the pin along with other marketing materials for the product launch. The most comprehensive history of Mr. Macintosh is at Andy Hertzfeld’s wonderful site Folklore.org. He tells the story of how Steve Jobs stopped into the engineering offices late one night with an idea:

“Mr. Macintosh is a mysterious little man who lives inside each Macintosh. He pops up every once in a while, when you least expect it, and then winks at you and disappears again. It will be so quick that you won’t be sure if you saw him or not. We’ll plant references in the manuals to the legend of Mr. Macintosh, and no one will know if he’s real or not.

“One out of every thousand or two times that you pull down a menu, instead of the normal commands, you’ll get Mr. Macintosh, leaning against the wall of the menu. He’ll wave at you, then quickly disappear. You’ll try to get him to come back, but you won’t be able to.”

The development team didn’t immediately hop on the project, more pressing tasks were at hand and Jobs was known to develop and discard ideas with great frequency. But this stuck with him, and eventually he befriended Folon and his whimsical, playful style. Apple gave Folon a commission to develop the character, and a year later he returned with several drawings. These included The Macintosh Spirit and the drawing of a man in a top hat and ‘Macintosh’ (raincoat).

The Macintosh Spirit

Hertzfeld notes that the engineering team tried to implement Mr. Macintosh (aka Mac Man), but the original ROM had only 64k of memory and the bitmap images wouldn’t fit. As explained in another Folklore post, the task basically became impractical:

We had abandoned our ambitions for Mr. Macintosh due to the scarcity of ROM, disk space and development time, but we eventually used some of Folon’s drawings on buttons given away at trade shows, and a small rendition of his Mr. Mac was emblazoned on the first digital printed circuit board next to the copyright notice.

Mr-Macintosh-Collage
Mr. Macintosh pins (photo: DigiBarn) and prototype Macintosh logic board

The old logo was not used on any shipping Macs, but was included on prototype Twiggy Mac logic boards (so named because they also included the infamous 5.25″ Apple Twiggy disk drive).

It’s a shame Apple lost the sense of playfulness which characterized such early efforts. When Jobs returned from exile (e.g., the NeXT acquisition) he prohibited Easter Eggs and other such surprises built into the OS. Meanwhile Talking Moose usurped the role of a mysterious little creature which pops up every now and again to say cryptic things.

In the end cost also became a factor in the use of the artwork. Linzmayer mentions this in his book:

In addition to his hefty advance, Folon was to be paid an unprecedented royalty of $1 for every Mac sold. With almost 30 million Macs sold as of 1998, the Macintosh commission would have easily been Folon’s most lucrative undertaking. But after Folon submitted “The Macintosh Spirit,” the mercurial Jobs changed his mind. In June 1983, he turned instead to the Mac art director, Tom Hughes, asking him to come up with something a little more practical. Working with John Casado, Hughes created the colorful, simple drawing of the Mac that we’ve come to know and love.

folon creating Mac Man
Jean-Michel Folon (photo: Folklore.org)

 


3 responses to “The Hidden History of Mr. Macintosh”

  1. Would like donate old Mac programs. 15 years old
    Any interest?

  2. Kathy says:

    I have a Folon poster of the flying Mac man holding a keyboard with the monitor as his head.
    I got this poster during the 1980’s when I worked at Apple. I’d like to sell it. Do you have any idea of the value?
    Thanks

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