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Operation Barbarossa: The Biggest Military Adventure in History

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June 22nd marks the 70th anniversary of Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union -- the biggest military adventure in history, which led directly to the downfall of Adolf Hitler’s murderous regime. Together with the Holocaust that followed it, Operation Barbarossa was the ultimate expression of Hitler’s twisted vision, reflecting both the vaulting ambition and depthless cruelty of Nazi ideology.

After Germany’s humiliating defeat in the First World War, the Austrian-born Hitler — consumed by weird conspiracy theories and even weirder notions of racial purity — made it his life mission to reunite the German people, topple the Soviet Union, destroy Communism and win lebensraum (“living space”) for the superior Aryan race. In Mein Kampf, dictated in 1924, the aspiring dictator linked the push for more territory with his planned crusade against Germany’s “eternal enemies,” “Bolshevism” and “world Jewry,” which were in fact the same thing: “If we talk about new soil and territory in Europe today, we can think primarily only of Russia and its vassal border states. The colossal empire in the east is ripe for dissolution, and the end of the Jewish domination in Russia will also be the end of Russia as a state.”

Hitler never offered many specifics about his grand vision -- perhaps because even he realized they were too shocking to be committed to paper. After years rattling around his hate-filled brain, in 1940 Hitler give the task of actually planning the colonization of Eastern Europe to his loyal henchman Heinrich Himmler -- the commander of the elite Schutzstaffel (SS) security force, and a man who rivaled his Führer in sheer crazed murderous ambition.

In the broad outlines of Himmler’s Generalplan Ost (Eastern Master Plan), German victory in the east would inaugurate ethnic cleansing on an unprecedented scale. After the destruction of the Soviet Union, approximately 31 million “Slavic sub-humans” would be murdered, starved to death, or forcibly deported to Siberia to make room for 8-10 million German settlers. The groups to be “resettled” (which soon became a euphemism for murder) included all of Eastern Europe’s Jews and most of the Slavic populations of Poland, Ukraine, and Belorussia. Fourteen million Slavs would be sterilized and retained as slave labor.

The Great Gamble

Although many members of his general staff were skeptical about the wisdom of invading Russia, Hitler’s fantastic vision seemed a little more plausible following an unbroken string of triumphs from 1936-1940. Remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936 was followed by the annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938. Britain and France finally declared war on Germany following Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 -- but the German Wehrmacht (armed forces) appeared unstoppable with the lightning conquests of Denmark, Norway, the Low Countries, and France from March-June 1940. And all this was merely a preamble.

On December 18, 1940, Hitler issued a secret order to Germany’s top generals instructing them to begin preparing a massive surprise attack on the Soviet Union, codenamed “Barbarossa” after a 12th-century Holy Roman Emperor who won land for the Germans from the Slavs. The element of surprise was crucial, Hitler emphasized, because of the need to prevent the Red Army from withdrawing into Russia’s vast interior; German troops would drive deep into Soviet territory and capture millions of enemy troops in huge encirclements before their commanders had time to react. To accomplish this, Hitler’s generals planned a “blitzkrieg,” or “lightning war,” similar to the ones that destroyed Poland and France in 1939-1940 -- but on a much, much larger scale.

As originally planned, the attack would begin in the spring, “no later than May 15,” to give German armies the most time for fighting before the grim seasonal deadline imposed by the Russian winter; the Red Army would have to be beaten no later than December 1941, or millions of German soldiers risked death by freezing.

Underlying this breathtakingly ambitious strategy was the German general staff’s conviction that the Red Army had been fatally weakened by Stalin’s purges in the late 1930s, when the paranoid Soviet dictator executed 40,000 (or 50%) of his own top officers. Hitler had also lulled Stalin into something like a false sense of security with a non-aggression pact signed when the two dictators divided up Poland in 1939; in reality this treaty (like all Hitler’s diplomatic agreements) was nothing more than a “scrap of paper” to be treacherously discarded after serving its purpose.

“Unprecedented, Unmerciful, and Unrelenting Harshness”

Viewing the coming invasion of Russia as a battle to the death between Germany and “Judeo-Bolshevism,” Hitler ordered his generals to crush resistance with utmost brutality. In a secret speech on March 30, 1941, recorded by Army Chief of the General Staff Franz Halder in his diary, Hitler warned these proud Prussian officers to abandon “obsolete” notions of decency and honor:

“The war against Russia will be such that it cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion. This struggle is one of ideologies and racial differences and will have to be conducted with unprecedented, unmerciful, and unrelenting harshness. All officers will have to rid themselves of obsolete ideologies. I know that the necessity for such means of waging war is beyond the comprehension of you generals but . . . I insist absolutely that my orders be executed without contradiction.”

This included killing every Communist official — the infamous “Commissar Order.” Hitler justified mass murder by arguing that Bolshevik officials, left alive, would lead a guerrilla war threatening the German military’s lines of communication and supply. Indeed the same method -- summary executions -- would be used against anyone even suspected of supporting the partisan resistance. If guilty parties couldn’t be found, the Germans would simply execute everyone in the nearest village to make their point. In short, millions of people (mostly peasants) would be murdered for trivial or imagined offenses.

And there was a still-darker secret Hitler hid even from his generals, aside for a few vague allusions: the planned murder of all of Europe’s Jews, beginning with roughly three million Polish Jews, 900,000 Ukrainian Jews, and 600,000 Belorussian Jews. In his fevered imagination Hitler lumped together poor Jewish peasants, Communist party officials, and anti-German partisans in a single, malignant conspiracy that had to be “exterminated.”

Some of the officers objected to the “Commissar Order” and atrocities against civilians on grounds of honor; Field Marshal Erich von Manstein “told the commander of the Army Group under which I served at that time… that I could not carry out such an order, which was against the honor of a soldier.” But Hitler, anticipating the qualms of his professional soldiers, gave them an easy out: much of the dirty work of hunting partisans and murdering Jews would be left to about 3,000 retired policemen and petty thugs, operating as four roving SS death squads euphemistically termed Einsatzgruppen (“Special Action Groups”).

In the final months before Barbarossa, personnel and materials moved around Europe on an unprecedented scale, as roughly 3.8 million men massed in four giant armies along a 820-mile front stretching from Finland to Romania. 3.2 million German troops would be supported by 600,000 troops drawn from the Third Reich’s vassal states and allies, including 300,000 Finns, 250,000 Romanians and 50,000 Slovaks.

In preparation for Barbarossa, the German military stockpiled 91,000 tons of ammunition, half a million tons of fuel (40% of all fuel available to Germany at the time), and 600,000 trucks and 750,000 horses to carry supplies.

Speaking with his top generals on February 3, 1941, the Führer contemplated his vast gamble with typical nihilism: “When the attack on Russia commences, the world will hold its breath and make no comment.” But the world would have to wait to hold its breath.

Crucial Delays

Hitler originally intended to launch Operation Barbarossa around May 15, 1941. But then (in typical fashion) a small Balkan intervention turned into a sweeping hemispheric gambit for control of the Middle East.

In November 1940, Hitler sent German troops to support his embattled ally Mussolini, who’d launched an ill-advised invasion of Greece. Meanwhile, the hapless Italian ally also suffered a humiliating setback in North Africa after invading British-occupied Egypt; in February 1941, Hitler dispatched Rommel’s Afrika Korps to tidy up the situation. Then in May 1941, Hitler invaded Yugoslavia to crush the government established two months before by nationalist air force officers, costing him three more crucial weeks.

Of course timing was of the essence: like clockwork, torrential rain would turn Russian roads into an ocean of mud by late August and temperatures would fall below freezing as early as October, with snow soon to follow. However, even though it was now a month behind schedule, Hitler decided Germany couldn’t afford to push back Operation Barbarossa to the next spring, arguing that the German Wehrmacht would never be as strong vis-à-vis the Red Army as it was now. And Hitler himself wasn’t fully in control, to hear him tell it: in February 1940 he divulged that “I follow the path assigned to me by Providence with the instinctive sureness of a sleepwalker.” A fatalist first and last, the Führer couldn’t wait to roll the dice.

The Die Is Cast

The attack came before dawn on June 22, 1941, commencing at 3:15 a.m. with the largest artillery bombardment in history, as 20,000 artillery pieces rained thousands of tons of shells on Red Army positions. Simultaneously 3,277 Luftwaffe combat aircraft launched a record-breaking aerial onslaught targeting the Soviet air force on the ground. Columns of tanks punched holes in Red Army defenses, followed by motorized and regular infantry, all supported by a continuing air assault, now targeting Soviet ground forces.

The invasion had three main objectives. Army Group Center, consisting of 1.3 million troops, 2,600 tanks and 7,800 artillery pieces, mounted a massive drive on Moscow. Meanwhile, Army Group North, consisting of 700,000 troops, 770 tanks and 4,000 artillery pieces, drove north from East Prussia through the Baltic States towards Leningrad, with an assist from Finnish and German troops coming from Finland. Finally Army Group South, consisting of one million troops, 1,000 tanks and 5,700 artillery pieces, invaded the Ukraine with an assist from Romanian troops targeting the Black Sea port of Odessa.

At first it looked like Hitler’s boldest gamble would be rewarded with his most spectacular success, as German and allied troops scored victory after victory. By December 1941, the combined German armies had killed 360,000 Soviet soldiers, wounded one million, and captured two million more, for total Red Army losses of around 3.4 million by the end of the year. In six months, German troops and their allies advanced up to 600 miles and occupied over 500,000 square miles of Soviet territory, home to 75 million people.

The Invasion Stalls

But final victory eluded the Germans. For one thing, Hitler continually meddled with the schedule and strategy for Barbarossa, resulting in further critical delays: in September 1941, he diverted part of Army Group Center north to help the attack on Leningrad, and another part south to help capture Kiev. The encirclement of Kiev was one of the greatest military victories in history, with over 450,000 Soviet troops taken prisoner in one giant roundup. But Army Group Center’s push on Moscow -- the main goal of Barbarossa -- was pushed back by another month.

And as impressive as their gains were, the Germans paid a high price for them, suffering 550,000 total casualties by September 1941, rising to 750,000 by the end of the year, including 300,000 listed as killed or missing in action. Lengthening supply lines were increasingly disrupted by partisans and bad weather; Army Group Center alone required 13,000 tons of supplies per day, and even during the dry months deliveries by trucks and horses could only meet about 65% of this demand. At its longest in 1942, the front stretched over 1,800 miles from the Arctic to the Black Sea. And still the steppes stretched out, seemingly endless, inducing a kind of horizontal vertigo. Halder’s diary entry from November 7, 1941 was tinged with unease: “Beyond the Russian expanses, no plan at present.”

A New Red Army (From Scratch)

The terrifying truth, now dawning on some officers, was that Hitler’s planners had drastically underestimated the strength of the Soviet military due to faulty intelligence and their desire to please the Führer. During the planning phase, they judged an invasion force of 3.8 million men in 193 divisions sufficient to defeat a Soviet military believed to number 4.2 million men in 240 divisions, including reserves. In reality, in June 1941 the Soviet military could muster five million men in 303 divisions, and this was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of Soviet manpower: from June-December 1941, the Red Army was able to field 290 more divisions, essentially creating an entire new army from scratch.

Thus Stalin was able to collect over 1.25 million men to defend Moscow against the final German onslaught of the year, “Operation Typhoon,” from October 1941-January 1942, and then launch a bloody counter-offensive to push Army Group Center back from Moscow. The Soviets continued to suffer huge losses during these operations, but they were better-prepared than the Germans for winter fighting. And as luck would have it, the winter of 1941-1942 was the coldest in decades. The temperature plunged to a record -42 degrees Fahrenheit in late December, and by March 1942, 113,000 German soldiers had been killed or incapacitated by frostbite. Most German tanks were damaged and needed to be serviced, and gasoline was scarce. On December 2, 1941, German scouts spotted the spires of the Kremlin through binoculars, but this was as close as they ever came to the enemy capital.

In short, Operation Barbarossa had failed. Although German armies would take the offensive again in spring 1942, this time the Red Army would be expecting it. And while Germany could draw additional manpower from allies like Romania, Finland, Hungary, and Italy, it also faced an ever-growing circle of enemies (principally the United States, after Hitler declared war on the U.S. in support of the Third Reich’s Japanese ally on December 11, 1941).


German officers were apprehensive, and rightly so -- not just about the likelihood of defeat, but also the prospect of violent retribution for the terrible things happening behind the front. For one thing, almost no provision had been made for feeding or housing prisoners of war. As a result, captured Soviet soldiers were simply left to perish from starvation and exposure in cattle cars or open-air camps. Of the 3.4 million Soviet soldiers taken prisoner between June 1941 and February 1942, two million had already died by the latter date.

Meanwhile, the four SS Einsatzgruppen embarked on the systematic mass murder of Eastern European Jews, shooting about 800,000 by the end of 1941 and a total of 1.4 million by the end of the war. In many places, the Nazis found willing accomplices among the local populations, where anti-Semitism ran deep. On September 29-30, 1941, Ukrainian collaborators helped Einsatzgruppe C murder 33,771 Jews in a ravine at Babi Yar, just outside Kiev, and Lithuanian mobs and militias murdered thousands of Jews before German troops even arrived.

Cold-blooded as they were, these local killers probably never suspected the murder of the Jews was intended as a preamble to the colonization of Eastern Europe. But the changing fortunes of war forced Hitler and Himmler to put the rest of the insane scheme -- the deportation or murder of tens of millions of “Slavic sub-humans” -- on hold. Still, their murderous impulses would find expression elsewhere.

Hitler's Dark Prophecy

Frustrated by the failure of Barbarossa, Hitler vented his anger against the Jews of Western and Southern Europe, reasoning that they all somehow shared responsibility for German setbacks in the East. Indeed, in January 1939 Hitler had issued this dark “prophecy”:

“If International Finance Jewry within and outside of Europe succeeds in plunging the nations once again into a world war, the result will not be the Bolshevization of the world and the victory of Jewry, but rather the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!”

Now over a million Western and Southern European Jews would pay with their lives for the failure of Hitler’s nightmare utopia in the East. After a verbal command from the Führer, Hitler’s stooges briskly hashed out the procedural details for genocide at the secret Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, leaving a helpful paper trail as they did so.

The murder of 5.7 million Jews from all over Europe was just the crowning atrocity. Although some of the following figures are open to debate, from 1941-1945 the Eastern Front claimed the lives of about 25 million Soviet citizens (10 million soldiers and 15 million civilians) along with four million German soldiers, 300,000 Romanians, 300,000 Hungarians, 95,000 Finns, and 80,000 Italians. Poland -- which became one of the main battlegrounds of the Eastern Front towards the end of the war -- lost over 5.5 million civilians and soldiers from 1939-1945, including about three million Polish Jews.

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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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