Why is the Linux logo a penguin? The story behind Tux

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Linux? If it’s a cherubic, round penguin, you’re referring to Tux, the iconic brand identifier for the current era of Linux.

But did you know that it took a good five years before Linux got a penguin as its brand ambassador? The story of the birth of the famous mascot and the creation of the Linux penguin name make for interesting anecdotes, especially if you’re a fan of the open source kernel and its lineage.

Written by Linus Torvalds in 1991, Linux was a component-driven, open-source kernel before becoming the basis for thousands of derivative distributions. The developer community saw the promise of a freely licensed Unix alternative and Linux enhancement by contributing to the project.

The story goes back to a particularly memorable trip to Australia in 1993, during which a fairy penguin bit Torvalds in a zoo. Known to most casual Linux users simply as the Linux penguin, Tux originated in 1996, when developer Alan Cox shared a cartoon he created from a penguin image Torvalds found in line.

Cox’s cartoon focused on the penguin’s adorable features after being inspired by the clay feature, Creature Comforts. Tux has retained its round puppy eyes that instantly attract new users’ curiosity and appreciation for cuteness.

The ample belly immediately caught the attention of Torvalds, who wanted a brand logo that wouldn’t intimidate customers. The penguin was preferred over a series of foxes, hawks, sharks and eagles suggested by others on various brainstorming forums.


The final version of Tux that we know now is based on a design by Larry Ewing. The creator had designed a digital portrait of the penguin using Linux drawing software GIMP, for a Linux logo design contest.

However, the final decision was for the name Tux, coined by James Hughes. It was the abbreviation of Torvald Unix.

Tux through the years

Linux logo

Linux is only four years younger than 40, as of today. Tux has given Linux an expandable engagement factor in merchandising and branding that even Microsoft’s Windows logo and Apple’s Mac systems lack.

For most of those decades, Tux has been the face of Linux. Its open source licenses allowed software developers targeting Linux to incorporate iconography without paying to borrow the art. Therefore, Tux has become a brand mascot beyond just a logo.

The penguin logo has inspired a litany of variations over the years while appearing in video games and advertisements. You will be amazed to find out where some of these variants ended up.

  • The smallest known representation of Tux measures just 130 microns. It exists on the pad ring of an IC microprocessor.
  • NASA’s use of the Open-Source Initiative, OpenAPI, Amateur Radio, and Linux distributions was documented and acknowledged a few years ago.
  • NASA also partnered with the Linux conference to launch a Tux-shaped hot air balloon into space on January 18, 2011. The high-altitude hot air balloon titled Project Horus 14 flew 30-40 km into the sky. An auction of the signed photo of the feat raised over A$23,000 for flood relief.

Tux has featured in many games like SuperTux, Tux Paint, SuperTuxKart, Tux Racer, Tux Math Scrabble, and more. Robe accompanies Tux, its well-known female counterpart.

In SuperTux and SuperTuxKart, Gown features Penny, another female variant of Tux. Tux 2 and Freeciv featured Trixi and Tuxette, two other female variants of Tux.

Tux has alternative revisions like Tux Crystal and PaX Tux, which is more friendly to Vikings. Even Windows enthusiasts enjoy wallpapers, theme packs, icon sets, and more.

Related: How to Automatically Set New Wallpapers Using Styli.sh on Linux

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If you like to customize your desktop to make it more attractive, you’re in luck. You can download several eye-catching distros that will appeal to Linux users.

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