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. 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.”
It would be another few months before Folon entered the picture, Hertzfeld wrote.
“The software team was swamped with more essential work, so we deferred implementing Mr. Macintosh for a while.” But after meeting Folon, “whose work was imbued with a humorous, playfully profound sensibility that [Steve Jobs] thought would be perfect for Mr. Macintosh,” Apple’s co-founder invited the artist to “visit the Mac team in Cupertino for a demo and a potential commission.”
The project didn’t go through, but as Hertzfeld wrote, it wasn’t because Folon and Apple didn’t click.
“Folon seemed fascinated by the embryonic Macintosh” he saw in 1982, and visited Cupertino again in the spring of 1983 to show his sketches to the team. But Apple eventually had to abandon its ambitions for Mr. Macintosh “due to the scarcity of ROM, disk space and development time.”
However, it is still a great tidbit of Mac history that also makes for highly desirable collectibles, such as the buttons that Apple made out of some of Folon’s drawings and gave away at trade shows, a Mac poster of his, or this once-auctioned letter showing that he and Jobs remained friendly.
As you can guess, these items are pretty rare, but you may find some consolation in digging through the links and images. My personal favorite: This original Mac Mac circuit board with Folon’s Mac Man emblazoned next to its copyright notice.