A flag steeped in history and Apple lore is flying over Cupertino’s campus ahead of the company’s 40th anniversary on April 1, 2016. In honor of a famous saying by Steve Jobs, “It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy,” a Jolly Roger flag has been hoisted above 1 Infinite Loop.
The pirates of Apple, Inc.
The Macintosh team at Apple started out as a rebellious skunkworks, developed by Steve Jobs after his revolt against the Apple II team. They were the pirates of the company, but the team quickly grew. Jobs’ saying, “It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy,” was believed to address the feeling among some of the earlier team members that the group was becoming too large and bureaucratic. Jobs wanted the team to preserve its original spirit, even as it was growing more like a navy day by day.
The original Apple pirate flag
In August 1983, the Macintosh team moved into a nondescript building known as “Bandley 3.” Since Bandley 3 looked like every other building in the Apple campus, the team wanted to make it stand out and obvious that it was the home of the Macintosh. Steve Capps, a programmer who had switched over from another team just in time for the retreat where Jobs uttered the famous quote, had a flash of inspiration that the group of people who were a band of pirates at Apple should be flying the Jolly Roger.
Capps bought some black cloth and sewed it into a flag, then asked Susan Kare to paint a big skull and crossbones in white at the center. The eyepatch was rendered by a large, rainbow-colored Apple logo decal. In the middle of the Sunday night before the team would arrive at Bandley 3 for the first time, the Jolly Roger flag was hoisted atop Bandley 3 in a makeshift manner using leftover construction materials. A recycled, unused thin metal pole and three or four rusty nails were all that first secured the flag into a groove in the building’s roof.
Capture the flag
Capps and the rest of the team didn’t know for certain how Jobs would react to the flag, but it turned out to be a big hit with the chairman of Apple and became a permanent fixture of the building. The Lisa team, however, with whom the Mac team had a mostly friendly rivalry, stole the flag after a month or two. They sent the Mac team a ransom note, so the group did what any band of pirates would do: stole the flag back, with Capps even wrestling it from the grasp of one of the Lisa team’s secretaries.
The flag fades into the annals of computer history
After retrieving their Jolly Roger, the Mac team proudly flew their flag over Bandley 3 for more than a year. Suddenly, however, it was gone again, and this time there were no clues as to its whereabouts. The flag ended up disappearing into the annals of computer history, but remains a vibrant piece of Apple folklore to this day. Now, in honor of the company’s 40th anniversary, the Jolly Roger with a rainbow-colored Apple logo eyepatch has returned. It’s great to see the return of the flag, and I hope to see it wave above 1 Infinite Loop for some time to come.