Long Before Apple's Macintosh, There Was McIntosh's Apple

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With the untimely passing of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs earlier this month, the internet has been abuzz with tributes and retrospectives on the rise of what is now the world's most popular tech company. But long before the words 'Apple' and 'Macintosh' became synonymous with Jobs's keen sense of design and innovation, there was John McIntosh, a lowly farmer who turned out to be a revolutionary in his own right -- with, you guessed it, apples.

McIntosh was born in 1777, the son of Scottish immigrants living in New York's Mohawk Valley. When he was around 20-years-old, young John fell in love with a girl of whom his parents disapproved, so he ran away with her across the border to Upper-Canada to try his hand at farming. After several unremarkable years, John eventually married and purchased a largely undeveloped plot of land near the village of Dundela from which he could derive his living.

OAHF/via Then one day in the Spring of 19811, while clearing an untamed region of his farm, McIntosh stumbled upon a natural wonder that would shape his legacy. There among the overgrowth, John found a dozen or so saplings that stood out from the rest: young apple trees, thriving in a region where apples weren't known to grow.

Aside from crabapples, nearly all apple varieties growing in North America were imported from Europe, so McIntosh took special interest in his discovery. He transplanted each of the saplings from the woods into his garden, but after a year of special care, just one plant survived, bearing apples with a unique taste and color. Little could McIntosh have realized at the time that that single surviving tree was the only one of its kind in the world.

To this day, no one is certain just how the apple seedlings came to be on McIntosh's farm in Canada, though some have theorized that they sprouted from an earlier settler's discarded apple core. But the occurrence of a particularly delicious apple in such wild conditions is made all the more remarkable when considering how apples reproduce. Seeds from an apple do not grow into the same variety as their parent. Rather, varieties are the result of cross-pollination, which are then preserved in agriculture not by planting, but by grafting part of the existing tree to grow anew.

The genetic origins of McIntosh's apple tree remain a mystery, but it is clear that it was one of a kind. Realizing that he'd found a revolutionary variety, the farmer set about to grafting more and more trees from the original in an attempt to keep up with local, then regional demand.

Nowadays, McIntosh red apples (or simply 'Macs) are among the most popular varieties in the world -- but incredibly, it is from that one tree, discovered by accident 200 years ago, that all McIntosh apples are derived.

Over a century-and-a-half after John McIntosh revolutionized apples, two young tech entrepreneurs, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, needed a name for their company. Jobs, a lifelong fan of natural foods, suggested the name of one of his preferred snacks; Apple was born.

Then, in 1981, an Apple engineer named Jef Raskin set out to design the first truly 'personal computer' which he ultimately decided to name after his favorite variety of apple -- a name steeped in history which he promptly misspelled.

Tags: Agriculture | Fruits & Vegetables

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