Google’s list of unconventional activities ranges from April Fools’ pranks to mathematically nerd-centric IPO filings to building server hardware from unlikely materials, but among the company’s more obvious expressions of whimsy is the Google Doodle. Every so often, Google remixes the logo that dominates its famously Spartan search homepage to denote some reference to geek culture and/or current events.

There have been a number of notable Google Doodles, perhaps starting with the 2007 Valentine’s Day doodle that had many convinced the search giant had forgotten how to spell its own name. The first interactive Google Doodle appeared on May 21, 2010, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man by converting the Google logo into a playable version of the classic video game‘s monster-infested maze. Google has produced hundreds of Doodles, some of them specific to individual languages or countries, celebrating persons and subjects as diverse as Mozart to the Muppets, Albert Einstein to Mahatma Gandhi, Christmas Day to Apollo 11. The apex of Google’s Doodle aesthetic? The 46th anniversary Star Trek interactive story Doodle.

Few multinational corporations would be so cavalier with their brand indicia, but Google has been using its logo as an artistic playground since before it was a corporation. Google was officially founded, which is to say incorporated, on Sept. 4, 1998. The first Google Doodle appeared five days earlier — Aug. 30, 1998 — with a very special purpose in mind.

WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE BEHIND THE FIRST GOOGLE DOODLE?

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The first Google Doodle appeared on Aug. 30, 1998 as a signal to the budding search engine’s fans that founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were going to be unavailable for the duration of the Burning Man festival — so don’t bother calling or emailing if Google’s servers crashed. The original Doodle simply depicted the original Google logo (the one with the exclamation point) with a Burning Man stick figure behind it. The original Google Doodle remains the only Doodle designed by Larry and Sergey themselves.

Between 1998 and 2000, all Google Doodles were created by outside contractors. Starting on July 14, 2000, graphic artist Dennis Hwang has been responsible for virtually every non-interactive Google Doodle ever produced. Hwang was an intern when he got that first assignment, to redesign the Google logo in honor of Bastille Day. He did well enough that he earned the permanent Doodle overseer gig, becoming a full-time Google employee in the process. Of course, that wasn’t Hwang’s actual job; he was originally hired to be Google international webmaster, tweaking the company’s content for countries outside the United States. (Thus, the Bastille Day logo.)

Despite not being hired as an artist, Hwang’s Doodle works comprise arguably the most-viewed art portfolio in modern history, as the Google homepage is consistently the most widely visited page on the Internet. Hwang’s work isn’t all fun and games, mind you. He was also asked to design the original Gmail logo the night before the product’s release. If the Google Doodle didn’t give him the top portfolio viewership prize, the Gmail icon almost certainly does.

That not just an aspirational artistic accomplishment; it’s a mirthfully media-morphing moment of Geek Trivia.

Check out the related TechRepublic gallery: Geekiest Doodles from Google.