Why Apple Is Flying a Pirate Flag Over Its HQ

April 1, 2016, 6:49 PM UTC
Photographed for Fortune by John Harding

Pirates have taken over Apple’s headquarters.

An Apple (AAPL) employee, among others, have snapped photos of a pirate flag flying high over Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. on Friday. Apple also confirmed to Fortune that a pirate flag is indeed flying at its headquarters. The black flag includes the familiar white skull and crossbones, and perhaps most importantly, an Apple patch over one eye.

The flag is a subtle homage to Apple’s history and perhaps even Steve Jobs, who reportedly liked the flag that once flew over the company’s offices.

According to a piece written on historical preservation website Folklore by Andy Hertzfeld, one of the original members of Steve Jobs’ Macintosh team, the pirate flag was a metaphor for what Macintosh, and perhaps even Apple, should be as a team and company.

In 1983, Hertzfeld says Jobs held a retreat with his Macintosh team. At the retreat, Jobs discussed three “sayings” that he wanted his team to focus on: “Real artists ship,” “It’s better to be a pirate than join the Navy,” and “Mac in a book by 1986.”

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While Jobs’s rhetoric centered around those sayings, the idea of being a pirate instead of a Navy resonated with the Macintosh team. At the time, Apple was growing quickly.

However, a schism developed in the company between the Apple Lisa team and the Macintosh team. Both teams were eyeing the future of a graphical, user interface-based computer and had different ideas on getting there. Jobs was trying to inspire his troops to not only top the Lisa team but also to stay true to the culture he had created as Apple’s co-founder.

“I think the ‘pirates’ remark addressed the feeling among some of the earlier team members that the Mac group was getting too large and bureaucratic,” recalls Hertzfeld. “We had started out as a rebellious skunkworks, much like Apple itself, and Steve wanted us to preserve our original spirit even as we were growing more like the Navy every day.”

Later that year, members of the Mac team decided to double down on the pirates idea. One of the team’s programmers, Steve Capps, is said to have bought black cloth and sewed it into a flag. Another team member, Susan Kare, pained the skull and crossbones, leaving the team to install the final element: the rainbow-colored Apple logo eyepatch.

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Soon after, Hertzfeld says, the flag was flying over Apple’s offices and stayed there for more than a year before it was eventually taken down. Hertzfeld says he doesn’t know who took the flag down or where it went, but he did note that Jobs and the rest of his team was fond of it.

Still, the flag has lived on in the hearts of Apple fans for decades. Indeed, a couple of years ago, Kare, a highly respected computer designer and iconographer, decided to bring back the flag she helped design. She created a replica in 2014 and now offers it in two sizes: three-foot-by-five-foot and four-foot-by-six-foot. The flags range in price from $2,250 to $3,250, depending on size.

“Each flag is a hand-painted (acrylic paint on a black nylon flag with brass grommets) re-creation of the flag that flew over Bandley 3, the Macintosh building at Apple, Inc. in 1983,” Kare’s flag description reads. “Susan Kare painted the original in response to one of Steve Job’s slogans at a Macintosh offsite: ‘It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy.’ She will custom paint a similar version for you.”

Read more: A Look Back At 40 Years of Apple

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the flag currently flying over its headquarters is the original or a replica.

Regardless, with a simple flag, Apple is paying tribute to an important moment in its history. Who would’ve thought so many years later a pirate flag could mean so much?

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