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The Original Macintosh:    68 of 124 
Swedish Campground
Author: Andy Hertzfeld
Date: August 1983
Characters: Susan Kare, Steve Jobs
Topics: Software Design
Summary: How we got the unusual symbol used for the menu command key

We thought it was important for the user to be able to invoke every menu command directly from the keyboard, so we added a special key to the keyboard to invoke menu commands, just like our predecessor, Lisa. We called it the "Apple key"; when pressed in combination with another key, it selected the corresponding menu command. We displayed a little Apple logo on the right side of every menu item with a keyboard command, to associate the key with the command.



One day, late in the afternoon, Steve Jobs burst into the software fishbowl area in Bandley III, upset about something. This was not unusual. I think he had just seen MacDraw for the first time, which had longer menus than our other applications.

"There are too many Apples on the screen! It's ridiculous! We're taking the Apple logo in vain! We've got to stop doing that!"

After we told him that we had to display the command key symbol with each item that had one, he told us that we better find a different symbol to use instead of the Apple logo, and, because it affected both the manuals and the keyboard hardware, we only had a few days to come up with something else.

It's difficult to come up with a small icon that means "command", and we didn't think of anything right away. Our bitmap artist Susan Kare had a comprehensive international symbol dictionary and she leafed through it, looking for an appropriate symbol that was distinctive, attractive and had at least something to do with the concept of a menu command.

Finally she came across a floral symbol that was used in Sweden to indicate an interesting feature or attraction in a campground. She rendered a 16 x 16 bitmap of the little symbol and showed it to the rest of the team, and everybody liked it. Twenty years later, even in OS X, the Macintosh still has a little bit of a Swedish campground in it.

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16 Comments     
According to someone from Sweden, on my blog, "that's a Swedish traffic/map symbol used to indicate a historical site." http://nslog.com/archives/2004/01/25/folklore.php#c005761
Lennart Olson, from Sweden writes: However, I must correct Andy when he explains its meaning here in Sweden. It does NOT mean campground. Actually, the symbol tries to picture a castle from above with a tower in each corner. It is displayed on traffic signs to indicate an historic site. New Swedish Mac users always get confused why Apple put in a reference to historic sites on the keyboard... I've gotten that question many times. Finally I know why! :-)
Ah, so the story behind the command symbol is true. I always thought the symbol was international though, as it's common to see this symbol on roadsigns all over Norway. Oh, and it's true about it marking a historical site or just "site of interest", not being on a campground.
The Jargon File has an entry for 'feature key' which parallels this anecdote, though it claims the symbol comes from "an early Mac developer who happened to be Swedish". http://www.catb.org/~esr/jargon/html/F/feature-key.html
To sum this up the comments above, the symbol is used to indicate a general "point of interest" in Sweden, Norway and Denmark (and possibly elsewhere in the Nordic countries). Bjarne Tveskov, Denmark http://tveskov.com
I've tended to assume that Susan got it from Rudolf Modley's "Handbook of Pictoral Symbols" (ISBN 0-486-23357-X). The description there (p. 115) labels it "Remarkable Feature."
In 2002, Sweden introduced four new road signs as alternative to the general "point of interest": a flower for tourist road, a diamond in a circle for world heritage and two signs for tourist attractions and landmarks, illustrated with unique drawings. All four are white on brown background: http://www.vv.se/aktuellt/pressmed/2002/hkpress17.htm Just in case Apple today wished to add another modifier key. :)
The symbol is called a "tetragram" or a "St. Hans cross". http://www.raa.se/myndigheten/img/logo.gif
It's seems that your story has been stolen. No reference to this site. Maybe the writer never saw it. It's almost verbatim. Check it out here: http://www.smarthouse.com.au/Computing/Software/?article=/Computing/Software/News/A4Q2C7Q4
to be honest,,, am just a normal user to the computer,, and am not totally familiar with the all commands and whatever. but i have a special story with this sympol. first u should know that am come from ksa,, pll here never see this sympol round the streats, but i was always drawing this sympol. it was not a big deal. only a childs drawinings and stuff. now i accedently saw the sympol. i recognize it. i didnt belevie that that some drawing i usulaaly do in while am thinking,, it turns to be real,, ppl out there using it in their computers, it informaion in the www, ppl using it in the streats or whatever. i am shocked. it means something in my head. but i dont know what it is. i need informaion about this sign. its historical back ground. its meanings, the ppl who invented it, and y they use it,, what for,,,etc etc etc plz whoever finds anything about it plz plz contact me Daalbie@hotmail.com and thx to everyone who told us anythimg about it. regards
It's a stylized representation of a castle with four towers, at least that's what I heard. A reasonable symbol for "command", actually.
As a designer (and avid Mac user) I constantly use key command shortcuts and have always wondered where the symbol came from. Back in 1993 I did a little exploration to no avail. I just thought about it today and found this article which answered my 14 year old question. Thank you Chris Hanna, USA http://atomicdesign.net
Eventually the Apple logo was put back into the keyboard to allow sharing the same keyboard with the Apple IIgs. Until the release of a new iMac on August 7, even Apple USB keyboards had the Apple logo, even though they cannot be used on the Apple IIgs, except by using a USB-to-ADB adapter. At that time, a new keyboard was introduced that elimates the Apple logo and add the word "Command" on it.
I am afraid that the symbol — ⌘ — on the apple keyboard does not symbolize anything in particular Swedish. The symbol derive from the Legend of the gordian knot. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordian_Knot I can’t say if the story about the bitmap designer is right, but it seems to good to be true. The term "Short Cut", must refer to the solving of The Gordian Knot by cutting it. If it is true it would be something of a coincidence.
Well, due to a conversation with my brother and further research, he found out, that the symbol is indeed what is know as a "Bowen Knot", which isn’t a knot but an unknot. And indeed connected with St. John’s Arms. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unknot http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowen_knot
Hi! This Symbol is not specially Swedish, its used all over Europe on Roadmaps and on Signs across Roads etc. to say: "here is a special Point where you can see something beautiful/historic/landscape thats worth looking carefully at" greez from Germany and thanks for this nice informative Website! Jens