Celebrating 40 Years of the Mac: A Salute to Mr. Macintosh

The Apple Macintosh was first released on January 24, 1984 — 40 years ago today. Wishing the Mac a happy birthday, the Folon Foundation shared a little-known anecdote: That Steve Jobs once commissioned Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon to come up with an illustrated character that would “live” in every machine and surprise the owner: Mr. Macintosh, aka Mac Man. Mac designer Andy Hertzfeld recalled hearing the idea from Steve Jobs in 1982 in these words:“Mr. Macintosh is a mysterious little man who lives inside each Macintosh. My personal favorite: This original Mac Mac circuit board with Folon’s Mac Man emblazoned next to its copyright notice.

The Apple Macintosh made its debut to the world on January 24, 1984, marking its 40th anniversary today. To celebrate this milestone, the Folon Foundation shared a fascinating tale about how Steve Jobs enlisted the help of Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon to create a character that would add a touch of surprise and personality to every Mac machine: Mr. Macintosh, also known as Mac Man.

“Mr. Macintosh is a mysterious little man who resides within each Macintosh. He appears unexpectedly and then quickly disappears with a wink. It happens so swiftly that you may question if he was even there. We will include mentions of Mr. Macintosh in our manuals, leaving the question of his existence up to the reader.”

These were the words of Mac designer Andy Hertzfeld, who first heard the idea from Steve Jobs in 1982. However, it wasn’t until a few months later that Folon became involved in the project, according to Hertzfeld.

“The software team had their hands full with other important work, so we put the implementation of Mr. Macintosh on hold for a while,” he shared.

But eventually, Folon’s path crossed with the Mac team, and Jobs was convinced that his style of art – “humorous and playfully profound” – was the perfect fit for Mr. Macintosh. Intrigued, the Apple co-founder invited Folon to visit the team in Cupertino for a demonstration and a potential collaboration.

Although the project never came to fruition, it wasn’t because Folon and Apple didn’t get along. In fact, Hertzfeld explains that Folon was fascinated by the yet-to-be-released Macintosh and even returned to Cupertino in the spring of 1983 to showcase his sketches to the team. Unfortunately, due to constraints on ROM, disk space, and development time, Apple was unable to bring Mr. Macintosh to life.

Despite the project’s demise, this nugget of Mac history is highly sought after by collectors, with items like buttons featuring Folon’s drawings, a Mac poster, and even a letter auctioned off as treasured memorabilia of this partnership.

While these items may be rare, you can still take delight in perusing the links and images to get a glimpse into this interesting chapter of Mac’s past. My personal favorite is the original Mac circuit board adorned with Folon’s Mac Man next to its copyright notice.

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Kira Kim

Kira Kim is a science journalist with a background in biology and a passion for environmental issues. She is known for her clear and concise writing, as well as her ability to bring complex scientific concepts to life for a general audience.

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