The real truth about the Smalltalk Balloon

Dan Ingalls DanI at
Sun Oct 4 22:49:44 UTC 1998

Ralph -

Many times I have browsed past your article "About the Smalltalk Balloon" and been tempted to add to the little bit of history that you have there.  While your link is entitled "Why a hot-air balloon is the symbol of Smalltalk," you never really answer the question.  The time has come to tie up that loose end.  Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, and

	The Real Story About the Smalltalk Balloon

Everyone in our group wanted to challenge the ivory tower image in Byte's special issue on Pascal, because in fact we were all working intensely to get Smalltalk-80 out the door from Xerox at the time.  The cover of that issue depicted the "land of Smalltalk" as a remote island, and that triggered a connection for me out of which was born the fanstasy of liberating Smalltalk from the ivory tower by balloon ascent.

Here is the connection...
My favorite book from youth was The Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne.  It is the story of an engineer, Cyrus Harding, who gets blown far afield in a storm during a balloon surveillance mission in the 1860's.  He ends up stranded on an island but, through ingenuity and a bit of luck, he manages to recreate most of the accomplishments and comforts of civilization on his own (with a little help from an amiable orangutan ;-).  Cyrus Harding became my childhood standard for resourcefulness and the conviction that anything can be accomplished if you are clever and persistent.

The fantasy of a balloon as the vehicle for Smalltalk's release stuck with me from then on.  When the opportunity came to design the cover for the Byte issue on Smalltalk, I made the suggestion of the balloon lifting off from the island shown on the Pascal cover, and everyone picked up on it.  Robert Tinney executed the wonderful graphic that we know so well, and the rest is history.

	- Dan

P.S.  There is a further coincidence in this particular literary allusion:  It is revealed at the end of The Mysterious Island that the island is actually the base of operations for a more well-known Verne character, and that character happens also to be the childhood hero of a more well-known figure in the history of Smalltalk.

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