MTE Explains : The Origin Of The Penguin Tux

Apple’s logo is a half-bitten apple. Windows’s logo somewhat looks like a window (at least in the beginning). So why is there a penguin as a mascot for Linux? And why is it called Tux? And where does it come from? And why is it a mascot and not a logo? And so on. Yes, we have a lot of questions about Linux, but strangely, there is a lot more about the penguin.

The Origin and Evolution of Tux

Tux was created in 1996 by Larry Ewing, after the suggestions from Linus Torvalds and Alan Cox. That’s right, we can all read Wikipedia, but the History is always more complex than what it seems. Before jumping to conclusions, we have to keep in mind that most of the discussions from the time were as email listing. Even if it is not written, everyone had their own reasons to pick a penguin as the mascot. Let’s put back in context, in 1996 the Linux Kernel is under heavy development. The most famous leaders are Linus Torvalds (initiator of the project) and Alan Cox (considered to be the second head). And of course, the developers want a logo, something to face Windows (in full expansion at the time). A lot are talking about a shark, or something as strong as BSD Daemon. But Torvalds comes up and pushes the idea of a penguin, declaring that

Re: Linux Logo
Linus Torvalds (
Sun, 12 May 1996 09:39:19 +0300 (EET DST)
Umm.. You don't have any gap to fill in.
"Linus likes penguins". That's it. There was even a headline on it in some Linux Journal some time ago (I was bitten by a Killer Penguin in Australia - I'm not kidding). Penguins are fun.

In fact, Torvalds was just gently nibbled by a Little Penguin in a National Zoo in Australia, but the idea was there.


He was also influenced maybe by the short movie “Creature Comforts”, which also featured a very similar penguin.


But when it comes to justification, it is always better to have the opinion of the instigator:

All the other logos were too boring - I wasn't looking for the
"Linux Corporate Image", I was looking for something _fun_ and
sympathetic to associate with Linux. A slightly fat penguin that sits
down after having had a great meal fits the bill perfectly.

Because yes, there was a lot of other logos. In fact, of at least three logo competition, Tux won absolutely none of them. So this is why we say that it is a mascot and not a logo.

From there, Larry Ewing created that “sympathetic” penguin using Gimp in 1996. The image is under GNU and the sources can be found at his personal page.


Linux developers started using the new mascot from there. The most famous signatures that you will find everywhere around the web are from David Navarro

 /v\ L I N U X
 // \\ >Phear the Penguin<
 /( )\

and Paul Gray

 /\\ Message void if penguin violated
 _\_V Don't mess with the penguin

The name itself comes from James Hughes:

Re: Let's name the penguin! (was: Re: Linux 2.0 really _is_ released..)
James Hughes (
Mon, 10 Jun 1996 20:25:52 -0400
(T)orvalds (U)ni(X) --> TUX!

Public Reception

At first, let's say that Tux was not as appreciated as expected. After all, Torvalds sent a fat penguin against the most powerful company of the time: Microsoft. And Tux did not even win any logo competition. However, the penguin managed to find its place next to Beastie, thanks again to Torvalds:

"Some people have told me they don't think a fat penguin really
embodies the grace of Linux, which just tells me they have never seen
a angry penguin charging at them in excess of 100mph. They'd be a
lot more careful about what they say if they had."

In 2009, Tux was even replaced by Tuz, the Tasmanian devil to protest against its extinction. Designed by Andrew McGown and Josh Brush, Tuz was exposed for the conference.



It may seem unimportant now, but there is in fact a whole story behind Tux. Everything from its origin to its spread was coordinated by the developers, and we can say that they did an incredible job. Now that we are aware, we can fully enjoy incarnating Tux in SuperTux and SuperTuxKart. Who said that the penguin was in Mario's shadow?

Do you know anything more about Tux? Have any questions? Please let us know in the comments.


Adrien is a young but passionate Linux aficionado. Command line, encryption, obscure distributions... you name it, he tried it. Always improving his system, he encountered multiple tricks and hacks and is ready to share them. Best things in the world? Math, computers and peanut butter!

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