A Complete History of Tux.

(So Far)

By Steve Baker.

[Tux] "...looks too much like Homer Simpson"
-- Albert Cahalan.


In the beginning, sometime in early 1996, several people were talking on the linux-kernel mailing list about a suitable logo/mascot for Linux. Of the many, many suggestions, many involved parodies of other operating system logo's - or were strong, noble beasts such as Sharks or Eagles. At some point (I'm not sure when), Linus Torvalds (the father of Linux) casually mentioned that he was rather fond of Penguins - which rather stopped the debate in its tracks.

After several attempts to draw Penguins in various poses, someone suggested a Penguin holding up the world. Here is the famous email from Linus - in response to Dale Scheetz' efforts to produce a such an image:

Why Penguins?

This email from Linus in response to this very question seems to explain the significance of the Penguin:

Well, thanks Linus - without your help, I'd be writing a video game about a triangle with "Linux 2.0" written inside it!

Which Penguin?

A contest was proposed to pick a suitable Penguin logo - but from what I can see of the email at the time, Larry Ewing's famous Penguin painting won more or less by popular acclaim. Larry is on record as having first painted Tux using GIMP (The GNU Image Manipulation Program). You can find the original image and an explanation of how Larry painted him here: "http://www.isc.tamu.edu/~lewing/linux/".

Larry grants permission to use and/or modify the Tux image - but he requires you acknowledge him <lewing@isc.tamu.edu> and The GIMP "if someone asks".

Tux in 3D.

In July 1998, I started writing a 3D game for Linux - and since I needed a cute main character, Tux naturally leapt to mind. The title of the game is "A Quest for Herring."

This 3D Tux was generated by digitizing Tux's profile from Larry Ewing's painting, that was then rotated through 360 degrees to generate a volume of revolution.

The flippers and feet were hand-built and the beak is a cone which has been squashed from end-to-end and from top to bottom. The texture map also derives from Larry's original painting, but I had to fill in the background with solid black, remove the feet and turn the beak into separate texture map. Since I needed to use Tux in my 3D game, it was necessary to reduce the resolution of the image so that it would not consume too much texture memory.

The version in the game has better feet, a head that turns, and a beak that opens and shuts. It also sits in the same pose as in Larry's painting.

Why is He Called "Tux"?

Like pretty much everyone else, I had always assumed that "Tux" is short for "Tuxedo" - Penguins look like they are wearing tuxedo's and that seems like the most reasonable explanation. However, Jacob Poon <jacob.poon@utoronto.ca> researched this and found the first known attempt at naming "The Penguin" was found on this message: ...presumably because of the earlier comment from Albert Cahalan that Tux looks like Homer (from "The Simpsons")...which he does...sortof.

The next reply seems to be the first use of the name "Tux":

...well, that kindof provides an explanation for the name - although the tuxedo connection has to be the reason behind such a tortured (and technically incorrect) acronym. There were a few other 'in-joke' names, then the thread fizzled out and the name "Tux" has stuck.


A very few Linux people call the penguin 'Linnie' - but they are a dying breed. He's obviously called Tux and that's that.

The REAL Tux?

Yes, there is a real, live, physical Penguin.

A number of UK Linux fans - lead by Alan Cox - and the Linux World magazine decided to sponsor a live Penguin at Bristol Zoo as a birthday present for Linus. The following individuals contributed:

   Phil Copeland, Alan Cox, Martin Houston, Alun Jones, Richard Hughes 
   Alec Muffett, Andrew Pagett, Dick Porter, Chris Samuel 

You can see the letters from Bristol Zoo (in South-West England) - and some photo's of the Penguins at the Zoo.

According to the Zoo, Tux is a Black-Footed (Jackass) Penguin - but the pictures of the Penguins at Bristol don't have the same markings as the 'classic' Tux images.

Tux Makes a Difference (it's Official).

If you are still in doubt about how 'real' Tux is, he actually won an award from "Internet World" where he was nominated as one of the twelve people "Who Made a Difference During the Year" (check out the "Internet Scrapbook" for December 14th 1998).

Why Penguins?

Just in case you havn't already heard enough, here is Linus' explanation for why he's fond of Penguins:

From: Linus Torvalds

Penguin Fanaticism.

And now the world has gone nuts for Tux - his image is used in dozens of magazines, adverts, Tee-shirts - you can get cuddly-Tux plush toys in sizes from four inches to thirty six inches - and if you have $999 to spare, you can be the proud owner of a wearable Tux costume!.
Eric Harshbarger built this 25 inch tall Tux from Lego bricks:
    Visit Eric's site for lots of other pictures of this magnificent edifice - and for Eric's other Lego projects.
...although it's hard to beat this for Tux enthusiasm:
    From: Jim Duchek <jimduchek@ou.edu>

    ...in January 1999 I decided (entirely sober even!) to get Larry Ewing's beautiful image tattooed on my upper left arm.

There are other Tux Tattoos here.

Controversy and Anti-Penguin Sentiment.

When Democracy Fails...

Reportedly there were at least three votes held on the choice of a Linux Logo. Suprisingly (in the light of subsequent events), Tux didn't win! In the largest and most final contest he polled only 541 votes compared to 785 for the winning design:
(Painted by Matt Ericson)

However, Linus seems to have asserted his desires and today, there is no doubt that Tux is by far better known and more widely used than others that figured highly in the competition. To be fair (and with a nod to democracy), we should perhaps call Tux the "Linux Mascot" - and leave the term "Linux Logo" for Matt Ericsons' image.

I agree with Linus' argument:

It would be hard to do stuff like this with the words "Linux 2.0 Powered" in a white box:

Although, to be fair, it's hard to do stuff like this with a cute penguin:
     /v\    L   I   N   U   X
    // \\  >Phear the Penguin<
   /(   )\
...which was devised by David Navarro.
                       #  #  #       
                       #" #" #       
 Linux                ##vvvvv##      
 Rules!              ##  vvv  ##     
                    #          ##    
                   ##           ##   
                   ###          ###  
                 +++#####       ##++ 
                ++++++#       #++++++
                +++++++#     #+++++++
                    +++       +++    
...which nobody seems to claim ownership of.

But aren't Penguins a bit - well - feeble?

There are certain Linux supporters who don't like the penguin. Yes, I know that's hard to believe. For example, Alan Mackey promoted a Fox as an alternative mascot - there were quite a few supporters of that idea - but Tux is now pretty much universally accepted and the unnamed fox is no longer a contender.

Once again, Linus has words for these people:

But Tux IS lean and mean.

(OK - maybe lean is a bit of a stretch.)


Feathers McGraw?

Several people posting to linux-kernel suggested that the Linux Penguin is rather too similar to the "Feathers McGraw" Penguin in Nick Park's Wallace and Gromit video "The Wrong Trousers" - or to the Penguin in his earlier work "Creature Comforts". Look for yourself - but I don't see much similarity.

The LWN.net Tux Archive.

There are several hundred more Tux pictures at the LWN.net web site:

Other Penguins.

There are insane numbers of Penguin fanatics out on the web, one of the better sites is this one:


I have tried to be as exact as possible in this description of the History of Tux - but if you know better, or if you have any good Tux anecdotes that belong in this historical record, please let me know at <sjbaker1@airmail.net>