An image meme that started on Tumblr in early 2009 and spread to social networks around the world has just made its way back to Tumblr, where many users are seeing it for the first time. The meme is called "241543903," and it involves taking a photo of yourself with your head in your freezer and tagging it 241543903. That way, anyone who searches for that magic number on Google Images will see a whole ton of head-in-a-freezer photos. 241543903 seems to have peaked earlier this year, but it's been revived recently by a Tumblr post that now has over 2,000 likes and reblogs.

241543903 is totally weird the first time you see it: some people have Photoshopped their "decapitated" heads into the freezer, while others have taken normal photos by putting the camera inside their iceboxes or setting it up behind them. There are also some 241543903 drawings, and there's even a bit of crossover with the popular "motivational poster" image format.

Below, we'll tell you the story of 241543903, and how it spread around the world and came right back to Tumblr.



The Story of 241543903

The head-in-a-freezer photo meme was started in April 2009 by David Horvitz, a New York artist known for (among other things) starting a subscription service for his daily photos of the sky. At the time, Horvitz was running a Tumblr where he would post instructions to his audience each day. These were generally off-the-wall things like "record a dramatic reading of a YouTube comment fight" or "ask to watch the sunset from the roof of the tallest building near your house." In November of this year, David had a book of these instructions, Everything That Can Happen in a Day, published by Random House.

Taking a photo with your head in the freezer and tagging it with the seemingly random number "241543903" was one of these instructions. Horvitz told us he got the idea after telling a sick friend, Mylinh Nguyen, to try sticking her head in a freezer. The number Horvitz picked was a combination of the serial number of his refrigerator and the barcodes on a bag of edamame and a package of frozen soba noodles he was keeping there.


The first 241543903 photo was posted to Horvitz' Flickr account on April 6, 2009, shortly before he posted the instructions on Tumblr. However, he uploaded a previous head-in-freezer shot in April of 2008, well before the 241543903 meme started. This earlier shot was tagged 241543903, but that may have happened after the meme started.

Shortly after the first picture was posted, the meme blew up on Google's social network, Orkut, which is one of the most popular websites in Brazil.

I asked David how Brazil caught on to his project before anyone else, and he told me he printed up 100 small fliers about 241543903 and sent them with a friend to Brazil. His friend told him she passed the fliers out to random young people. If the fliers are what caused this image to go viral, 241543903 is a rare case of an internet meme spreading through IRL means.

Once the head-in-a-fridge meme had taken over Orkut in 2009, spread to Japan, and then jumped to Facebook in early 2010, it disappeared until just this week. On Wednesday, a Tumblr post revived the meme and scored over 2,000 likes and reblogs. That's actually more than the 430 likes and reblogs David's original instructions have gathered so far. What's more, the Tumblr post has inspired Facebook status messages about 241543903, leading to a new leap in Google searches for the magic number.

The Story of 241543903: TL;DR Version

241543903 head in freezer meme infographic