Why is the Linux Logo a Penguin (Tux)?

  • Linux
  • 7 min read

The Beginning

The use of a Penguin as logo/mascot for Linux was discussed first in early 1996 by several people in the linux-kernel mailing list. The idea of such a mascot came from Alan Cox first. Among many other suggestions made by different people, there were parodies of other operating system logos, sharks, or even eagles. You can find them here, and here’s a couple below:

linux shark

windows linux logo

In May, 1996, Linus Torvalds casually mentioned that he was rather fond of penguins and it stopped the debates at once. Here is Linus’ email:

Re: Linux Logo prototype
Linus Torvalds ([email protected])
Thu, 9 May 1996 17:48:56 +0300 (EET DST)

Somebody had a logo competition announcement, maybe people can send their ideas to a web-site..

Anyway, this one looks like the poor penguin is not really strong enough to hold up the world, and it’s going to get squashed. Not a good, positive logo, in that respect..

Now, when you think about penguins, first take a deep calming breath, and then think “cuddly”. Take another breath, and think “cute”. Go back to “cuddly” for a while (and go on breathing), then think “contented”.

With me so far? Good..

Now, with penguins, (cuddly such), “contented” means it has either just gotten laid, or it’s stuffed on herring. Take it from me, I’m an expert on penguins, those are really the only two options.

Now, working on that angle, we don’t really want to be associated with a randy penguin (well, we do, but it’s not politic, so we won’t), so we should be looking at the “stuffed to its brim with herring” angle here.

So when you think “penguin”, you should be imagining a slighly overweight penguin (*), sitting down after having gorged itself, and having just burped. It’s sitting there with a beatific smile – the world is a good place to be when you have just eaten a few gallons of raw fish and you can feel another “burp” coming.

(*) Not FAT, but you should be able to see that it’s sitting down because it’s really too stuffed to stand up. Think “bean bag” here.

Now, if you have problems associating yourself with something that gets off by eating raw fish, think “chocolate” or something, but you get the idea.

Ok, so we should be thinking of a lovable, cuddly, stuffed penguin sitting down after having gorged itself on herring. Still with me?

NOW comes the hard part. With this image firmly etched on your eyeballs, you then scetch a stylizied version of it. Not a lot of detail – just a black brush-type outline (you know the effect you get with a brush where the thickness of the line varies). THAT requires talent. Give people the outline, and they should say [ sickly sweet voice, babytalk almost ]”Ooh, what a cuddly penguin, I bet he is just _stuffed_ with herring”, and small children will jump up and down and scream “mommy mommy, can I have one too?”.

Then we can do a larger version with some more detail (maybe leaning against a globe of the world, but I don’t think we really want to give any “macho penguin” image here about Atlas or anything). That more detailed version can spank billy-boy to tears for all I care, or play ice-hockey with the FreeBSD demon. But the simple, single penguin would
be the logo, and the others would just be that cuddly penguin being used as an actor in some tableau.


In this interview Linus comments on being bitten by a somewhat rabid penguin:

I’ve been to Australia several times, these days mostly for Linux.Conf.Au. But my first trip – and the one when I was bitten by a ferocious fairy penguin: you really should keep those things locked up! – was in 93 or so, talking about Linux for the Australian Unix Users Group.

The community is generally skeptical about this story and it thought that it was nothing short of a wind-up by Linus. The real reason that Linus is said to have decided on the penguin logo for Linux is that it is the polar opposite of a typical corporate logo, possibly a dig at the business world; fitting for an open-source project such as Linux.


tux linux mascotThe first person to call the penguin “Tux” was James Hughes, who said that it stood for “(T)orvalds (U)ni(X)”. Tux was originally designed for a Linux logo contest. Confusingly, there were actually three separate contests and Tux didn’t win any of them. This is why Tux is formally known as the Linux mascot rather than the logo. Tux was created by Larry Ewing using the first publicly released version (0.54) of GIMP. It was released by him under the following condition:

  • Permission to use and/or modify this image is granted provided you acknowledge me [email protected] and The GIMP if someone asks.

crystal tuxTux does not accurately portray any of the 19 species of penguin although it somewhat resembles an Adelie penguin. It is often dressed or portrayed differently, depending on context; for example, when representing the PaX, a security patch for the Linux kernel, he wears a helmet and brandishes an axe and shield, and his eyes are red. Recently, Tux has been redrawn to blend more appropriately into “crystalized” desktop themes (see the picture on the left).

Other Facts

  • Tux had an uncredited use in Al Gore’s Penguin Army video controversy.
  • During the Q&A session following his COMDEX Fall 1999 keynote address, Linus Torvalds was asked if he had any idea how many stuffed penguins had been sent to Bill Gates. Torvalds’ response was another question: “To the nearest thousand?”
  • tuxtooTux has been adapted into a Designer Toy called a Gwin and is distributed by October Toys. It has been redesigned by different artists and sold in short collectible runs through the October Toys website and other collectible vinyl toy sites. There are also artists who buy a blank Gwin to hand paint and customize as a one-off art piece.
  • A tattoo of Tux is also known as a “Tuxtoo”.
  • Another uncredited use of the Tux currently can be seen at dunk the scammer where a designer apparently tries to depict the Tux as a symbol for Internet crime


32 thoughts on “Why is the Linux Logo a Penguin (Tux)?”

  1. wjl (Wolfgang Lonien

    Funny how Linus refered to things like "cute" and "cuddly" – and how the makers of the movie "Madagascar" just took it from him.

    "Nice & cuddly, boys, nice & cuddly"

    I love those anarchists, but in the end they get sunburnt…

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  4. Hello Wolfgang,

    > but in the end they get sunburnt…

    Agree with you..

    Dear Herb, [ sounds interesting in English 😉 ]

    As we can see Penguins (and possibly GNU, I'm looking for this information) were considered as important attributes of Linux, but so many years ago cute things looked quite different (just look at other Linux mascots). At the same time I can't imagine that some shark could be instead of Tux. 🙂

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