The legendary Apple Macintosh made its grand debut on January 24, 1984, marking 40 years since its revolutionary release. To celebrate the Mac’s birthday, the Folon Foundation has unearthed a little-known tale of Steve Jobs commissioning Belgian artist Jean-Michel Folon to create an illustrated character that would reside within every Mac and surprise its owner: Mr. Macintosh, affectionately known as Mac Man.
According to Mac designer Andy Hertzfeld, Jobs shared his idea for Mr. Macintosh in 1982:
“Mr. Macintosh is a mysterious little man who resides inside each Macintosh. He appears at unexpected moments, winks at you, and disappears just as quickly. His appearance may be so brief that you question if you truly saw him. We’ll hint at his existence in our manuals, leaving everyone wondering if he’s real or not.”
But it wasn’t until a few months later that Folon became involved in the project, as Hertzfeld explains:
“The software team was inundated with essential work, so implementing Mr. Macintosh was postponed. However, after meeting Folon, whose artistic style perfectly embodied Jobs’ vision of Mac Man, he was invited to visit the Mac team in Cupertino for a demo and possible commission.”
Unfortunately, the project never came to fruition due to limited resources. Hertzfeld reflects that:
“Folon was fascinated by the embryonic Macintosh during his visit in 1982 and returned to Cupertino in the spring of 1983 to share his sketches with the team. Sadly, due to a lack of space, time, and ROM, Apple was unable to bring Mr. Macintosh to life.”
Nevertheless, this anecdote serves as a fascinating glimpse into Apple’s past, and it has also resulted in some highly coveted collectibles, such as buttons and posters featuring Folon’s Mac Man. One particular gem, sold at auction, is a letter between Jobs and Folon, revealing their continued friendship despite the failed project.
While these rare items may be hard to come by, you can still discover them by digging through links and images. My personal favorite is an original Mac Mac circuit board featuring Folon’s iconic Mac Man alongside the copyright notice.