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5 Famous Fires and the Lessons They Taught Us

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The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire happened 100 years ago today. In this article first posted in 2009, Kara Kovalchik looks back at what caused five famous fires. Each disaster led to more stringent laws and/or safety precautions, to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

1. Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, March 25, 1911

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory occupied the top three floors of a 10 story building at the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place in New York City. The garment factory, which specialized in manufacturing women's blouses, would be called a "sweat shop" in today's terminology. The workers were mainly immigrant women (some as young as 12 years old) from Italy, German and Eastern Europe, who worked 14-hour daily shifts for approximately $70 $7 per week.


Accident Waiting to Happen
The factory had flammable textiles stored throughout the building, and scraps of fabric littered the floors and overflowed from bins. Designers smoked cigarettes at their desks and regularly tossed their butts into the scrap fabric bins instead of ashtrays. (Buckets of water were located throughout the factory to extinguish the bin fires that cropped up regularly.) Per company policy, several of the exit doors were locked during business hours; when employees left for the day, they had to line up by the few unlocked doors and leave single file under the careful gaze of a supervisor to make sure they weren't stealing any fabric or other supplies.

The Fire

The quitting time bell rang at 4:45PM, and while the women were putting on their coats and gathering their belongings, someone on the eighth floor yelled "Fire!" Flames leapt up from discarded rags on the floor between the first and second row of cutting tables. One man grabbed a bucket of water and threw it on the fire, but the flames had already spread to the paper patterns hanging overhead. It seemed like only seconds after the first cry of "fire" that the tables, partitions and ceiling were ablaze. Terrified employees crammed themselves into the single, small elevator and onto the narrow fire escape.

The fire quickly spread to the ninth and 10th floors. Some women were able to make it to the roof, where a professor at the New York University Law School next door used ladders left by painters to form a "bridge" between the two buildings and helped 69 Triangle employees to safety. Other workers were not so fortunate; when the fire escape collapsed from the stampede of panicked people, women began jumping from the windows. Engine Company 72 was the first on the scene, but the firefighters were torn between extinguishing the flames and trying to catch the jumpers in a life net. Once other fire departments reached the scene, it took 18 minutes to bring the fire under control, but not before 146 employees had lost their lives.

The Aftermath
The public outrage and the lawsuits filed by relatives of the dead led to the owners of Triangle Shirtwaist being tried for manslaughter (they were subsequently acquitted). A Factory Investigating Commission was formed, which examined the working conditions of all factories in New York City. Thanks to the findings of this Commission, 36 new laws were enacted to reform the state labor code. In addition, a Fire Prevention division was added to the city's fire department; its job was to inspect places of business and make sure they complied with the new laws, such as not locking doors during working hours and installing ceiling sprinklers.

2. The Hartford Circus, July 6, 1944

The Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus set up camp on Barbour Street during their stay in Hartford, Connecticut. The matinee show they played on an oppressively hot Thursday afternoon was attended by approximately 6,800 people—primarily women and children, since the men were either at work or overseas fighting World War II.

Accident Waiting to Happen
The Big Top tent had been waterproofed with a mixture of paraffin and gasoline. The wooden chairs had many layers of oil-based paint on them. The few entrances (which also served as exits) were narrow and funneled patrons into single file via metal railings to prevent non-ticket holders from sneaking inside.

fire1The Fire
Approximately 20 minutes into the performance: the Great Wallendas were performing their high wire act while animal trainer May Kovar was leading her big cats out of the tent to their cages. The first flame was small—most would later say about the size of a 50 cent piece—on one of the sidewalls of the tent. The actual cause was never determined, but was rumored to be a carelessly tossed cigarette. Several patrons noticed it, but no one raised an alert or exited the tent—they presumed that circus personnel were aware of the situation and would handle it. (NOTE: Sociologists have found that this is a typical reaction when disaster strikes at a large venue; adult Americans are conditioned to think that someone in authority already knows what is going on and will take care of the problem.)

The flames fed on the gasoline-lined tent and the fire spread very quickly. Merle Evans, the circus' band leader, spotted flames licking up the rear sidewall and immediately directed the band to play "The Stars and Stripes Forever," the universal circus distress signal. The performers heard the song and immediately abandoned their routines. Ushers began urging patrons to exit in an orderly fashion. Unfortunately, the fire spread so fast that soon people were stampeding toward the few exits. The death toll reached 168.

The Aftermath
One thing the burn victims had in their favor was that local Hartford hospitals were well stocked with bandages and plasma due to World War II (most major U.S. hospitals were in Disaster Preparedness Mode after Pearl Harbor). Not long after the Hartford disaster, most major circuses abandoned the use of the Big Top altogether and staged their shows in existing arenas and coliseums instead.

3. Our Lady of the Angels, December 1, 1958

Located in the Humbolt Park area of Chicago's west side, Our Lady of the Angels was a two-story Catholic school originally built in 1910 which taught classes from kindergarten to eighth grade.

Accident Waiting to Happen
Because it was a parochial—rather than public—school, OLA was not legally bound to retrofit their building to comply with 1958 fire codes. As a result, the school had no sprinkler system, the fire alarms rang only on school grounds and were not hooked up to the local fire station, and the fire extinguishers were stored in wall wells seven feet above the floor, out of the reach of most adults. In addition, the interior was made almost entirely of combustibles—the stairs, walls, floors, and doors were all constructed of wood. The floors had been coated and re-coated many times with flammable petroleum based waxes. The roof was coated with several layers of tar paper. Fire doors at the head of stairwells were propped open.

The Fire
The fire started (later believed to be the result of arson) in a barrel of oily rags in the basement of the school. It smoldered at the bottom of a stairway for some time before a window finally burst and gave it oxygen. Smoke seeped up the stairs and superheated gases caused the wooden staircase to burst into flames.

Luckily, the first floor had a heavy fire door which prevented the blaze from infiltrating. Instead, it followed the path of oxygen up to the second floor, where there was no fire door. The fire spread along the corridors of the second floor and also reached the attic. Classes were scheduled to be dismissed at 3:00PM; at about 2:25, two boys designated to haul wastebaskets to the basement saw the smoke and notified their teacher. The teacher pulled the fire alarm and classrooms on the first floor began exiting, thinking it was a fire drill.

Meanwhile, on the second floor, transoms over the classroom doors started spontaneously exploding, allowing thick black smoke to billow into the rooms. Some of the students were able to leave via the one fire escape, but most of the students and teachers gathered around the windows and gasped for air. When the fire department was finally summoned, they'd been given the wrong address. When the first trucks eventually arrived at the school, they found that their ladders didn't reach to the second floor. Desperate students jumped from the windows as parents (who'd run to the school after seeing the smoke) watched helplessly from the ground. By the time the blaze was finally extinguished, 92 children and three nuns had perished.

The Aftermath
The OLA disaster sparked sweeping reforms in school fire safety, and the new rules applied to every school, whether public or private. Almost 17,000 schools across the country were ticketed and forced to be brought up to code. Mandatory fire drills were put in place, and all fire alarms in schools were required to be wired directly to a fire station.

4. Beverly Hills Supper Club, May 28, 1977

Located in Kentucky just six miles south of Cincinnati, Ohio, the Beverly Hills Supper Club was a sprawling complex of banquet rooms and service areas that attracted the same entertainment acts one might find in Las Vegas or Atlantic City.

Accident Waiting to Happen
The owners of the club had added on to it in piecemeal fashion over the years with disregard to the current fire codes. The carpets and seat cushions they used were highly flammable and emitted toxic fumes when ignited. There were no fire doors at the tops of stairways. The architect who'd made most of the additions to the building was not licensed in the state of Kentucky. Much of the building utilized aluminum wiring, which, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, is a fire hazard. Many of the exit signs were not illuminated.

fire3The Fire
The actual cause and origin of the fire is still under dispute. What is known as fact, however, is that as guests exited a wedding reception being held in the Zebra Room they complained to management that the room seemed unusually warm. The doors to the Zebra Room remained closed after all the guests had left, and a little before 9PM two waitresses entered the room to begin clearing the tables. They noticed smoke hovering just below the ceiling and alerted management. The first fire engine arrived at 9:04PM, while employees haplessly tried to extinguish the flames that had suddenly burst into the Zebra Room.

Walter Bailey, a teenage busboy who'd seen the fire, ran down the long corridor toward the main stage, the Cabaret Room, poking his head in various rooms along the way and shouting warnings. When he arrived at the Cabaret Room, the comedy team of Teter and McDonald were onstage warming up the crowd for headliner John Davidson. Bailey strode onstage, grabbed the microphone and alerted the crowd of the emergency situation. He pointed out the exits in the room and asked them to evacuate quickly but calmly. Some patrons immediately followed his instructions, but the majority of the audience thought that Bailey was part of the comedy act and remained seated. Two minutes later a fireball exploded into the Cabaret Room and panic ensued. The room was enveloped with thick smoke, and the crowd tripped over the maze of tables and chairs as they scrambled in search of the poorly lit exits. The club had no emergency lighting, and the thick black smoke (filled with toxic fumes) made it almost impossible to find alternative exits. Firefighters had difficulty gaining entry into the building because bodies were "stacked like cordwood" in front of the main entrance doors. In the end, 165 people lost their lives in what is considered the third deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history.

The Aftermath
Richard Whitt of the Louisville Courier-Journal wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning exposé on the overcrowding and fire code violations of the Beverly Hills Supper Club. As a result of his writings, the Governor of Kentucky ordered a special investigation of the disaster. Several new state laws (which eventually were adopted nationwide) were enacted as a result, including the banning of aluminum wiring, mandatory emergency lighting in public venues as well as requiring non-toxic fabric coverings for seats and floors.

5. The Station, February 20, 2003

The Station was a West Warwick, Rhode Island, nightclub that specialized in heavy metal music. On Thursday evening, February 20, 2003, the headlining band was Great White, who'd had a Top 5 hit in 1989 with their cover of the Mott the Hoople classic "Once Bitten, Twice Shy." By some strange quirk of fate, a news team from WPRI happened to be in the house, filming a piece on nightclub safety.

Accident Waiting to Happen
The "egg crate" foam soundproofing material which lined the stage was flammable. The band's manager reportedly did not get a pyrotechnics permit. The wooden structure was built prior to 1976, which "grandfathered" it out of the law that required ceiling sprinklers.

fire4The Fire
Great White took the stage just moments after 11:00PM. They opened with "Desert Moon," which was accompanied by three different "gerbs," or controlled sprays of sparks. The sparks ignited the soundproofing behind the drummer and erupted into flames. Seconds after the flames first erupted (approximately 11:07) the band stopped playing and lead singer Jack Russell uttered "This ain't good" into the microphone. The band dashed offstage at the same time the club's fire alarm started blasting. The majority of the audience stood in place, thinking that this display was part of the show. Seconds later, when black smoke started billowing throughout the club, chaos erupted. Even though three other exits were open and marked with lit signs, the majority of the crowd stampeded to toward the entrance doors.

(NOTE: Another sociological phenomenon—studies have shown that in times of panic, when quick egress is necessary, people tend to instinctively not look for alternate means of escape but instead automatically flee to the place from whence they entered.) One hundred people died as a result of this disaster, and many more sustained life-altering injuries.

The Aftermath: Fire officials noted after the fact that a sprinkler system would have probably spared many lives, so the previous "grandfather" clause was negated and all public facilities over a certain capacity were required to install automatic sprinkler systems. Likewise, the regulations regarding pyrotechnic displays were similarly tightened and more strictly enforced.
* * * * *
People who have survived a fire have several things in common. Whenever they go to a movie theater, concert hall or club, they always make note of where all the exits are. If they notice a person sneaking a cigarette in a no smoking area, they alert someone in authority. We'll add a few precautions to that list: wherever you live, make sure you and your family are aware of the escape routes in case of emergency. Forget about your possessions; get the humans out first. A throw rug or carpet is ideal for wrapping up an infant or child in order to carry him through smoke-filled rooms or corridors (or, if need be, to toss him from a window to rescuers below). Feel free to add any additional fire safety tips that we haven't mentioned.

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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.

THE AD

If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).

SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR

Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.

WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT

Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother

WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT

When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."

THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP

A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:

20-YEAR ANNIVERSARY

In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:

FURTHER READING

Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.

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