Editor’s note: The Trivia Geek is on extended leave, but he did get off his slacker butt long enough to pull this Classic Geek, which originally ran on Sept. 13, 2005, from the archives.

Grab yourself a Fire Flower, and start stomping on some
mutant turtle monsters, old-school gamers, because more than 21 years ago, the world
first met the Super Mario Bros. On
Friday, Sept. 13, 1985, the best-selling console video game of all time debuted
in Japan, and the U.S. release quickly followed on October 1 of the same year.

Over the next two decades, Super Mario Bros. racked up 40 million units sold in North American
alone (largely on the strength of being the sample game included with the
Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom game consoles). In the process, it
catapulted the title character into the Pac-Man-esque
stratosphere as one of the most recognized video-game characters of all time.

Mario is now the official mascot of the Nintendo video-game
empire, and he’s enjoyed a live-action movie, a live-action television show,
and several children’s cartoons all based on his pixilated exploits. That’s not
bad for a guy who began his career in someone else’s video game.

Mario first appeared as the ladder-climbing, barrel-dodging,
gorilla-enraging protagonist of Donkey
, which made its arcade debut in 1981. In 1982, Mario would reappear as
the villain in the Donkey Kong Jr.
arcade game.

It wasn’t until 1983 that Mario would rate his own name on
the game marquee, when he enjoyed three title releases: Mario’s Cement Factory, Mario’s
Bombs Away
, and Mario Bros. The
latter introduced the world to Mario’s brother, Luigi. (It was also the first
time Mario squared off against evil turtles.)

1985, however, was the banner year for the brothers Mario,
as Super Mario Bros. set the standard
for the side-scrolling platform game genre. From there, the Mario franchise was
truly born, with Mario and his ever-growing cast of associated characters
appearing in more than 100 different titles and accounting for roughly 180
million game units sold.

In an industry where an ever-increasing number of complex
and hyper-real—and in some cases, hyper-violent—characters and concepts grab
headlines and zeitgeist, it’s nice to think that a simple Italian plumber named
Mario still carries a lot of weight with avid game consumers. Of course, this
world-famous character has come a long way from his humble roots—when his name
wasn’t Mario, and his gorilla-free day job was something besides a plumber.


What was the original name for the Nintendo video-game
character Mario, and what was his supposed occupation when he first appeared as
the gorilla-fighting protagonist in the 1981 arcade classic Donkey Kong?

While we may know him today as the red-capped,
blue-overall-clad plumber named Mario, he began life under the nondescript name
Jumpman—a humble carpenter who used his leaping ability, ladder-climbing
skills, and the occasional hammer to rescue the damsel Pauline from the
clutches of a girder-scaling, barrel-tossing gorilla named Donkey Kong. At
least, that’s how game producer Shigeru Miyamoto—the legendary creator of
Mario, Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda, and Pikmin—originally envisioned this

Mario didn’t officially get his name until 1983, when he
appeared in Mario’s Cement Factory.
(His profession was also different—a cement factory worker—though there was
never an official distinction made.) It wasn’t until Mario Bros. that he and his newly introduced sibling Luigi appeared
as plumbers, matching that game’s setting of an underground collection of pipes
and viaducts.

So, why Mario?
Well, the character’s namesake comes from an actual Mario—Mario Segali, the former
landlord of the New York office building that housed Nintendo of America headquarters
in the early 1980s. When searching for a more marketable name for the Jumpman
character, then-president of Nintendo of America Minoru Arakawa purportedly
remarked on the likeness of the game character to the company’s landlord—and
thus the name Mario caught on.

Of course, it’s doubtful that Segali ran around in overalls
and a bright red cap. Developers chose those sartorial accoutrements for
logistical, not stylistic, reasons. Due to the pixilated limitations of early
video game graphics, Mario’s animated arm motions would have been
indecipherable if his shirt sleeves were the same color as his shirt.

Thus, developers outfitted Mario in overalls, so his swinging
arms would appear even in their crude early forms. Similar difficulties in
animating a tousle of thick hair led to Mario wearing his signature cap, and problems
animating a mouth are responsible for his thick moustache. Mario’s back story
as an Italian-American plumber from Brooklyn emerged as game premises required.

So, to take stock: Mario began with a wardrobe and features
chosen by necessity, a name stolen from his landlord, and a career as an also-ran
in some other ape’s game, and now he’s the most bankable game character ever
conceived. That’s a rags-to-riches tale that would make even the Mushroom
Kingdom—and Geek Trivia—take notice.

Get ready for the Geekend

The Trivia Geek‘s blog has been reborn as the Geekend, an online archive of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant—unless you’re a hardcore geek with a penchant for science fiction, technology, and snark. Get a daily dose of subcultural illumination by joining the seven-day Geekend.

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in a future edition of Geek Trivia—namely, when the Trivia Geek gets back from his extended leave. (To read the original quibble from this article, see Listing A.)

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The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who’s duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.