They were first produced in 1932 by William McDonald, a biscuit manufacturer in Glasgow, and became a McVitie's brand when McDonald joined with McVitie's and Price, MacFarlane Lang & Co and Crawford to form United Biscuits in 1948.
Each wrapper has a joke or "funny fact" printed on it and imaginative, often humorous designs featuring penguins that often pastiche famous works of art.
In October 1996, Penguins were the subject of a court case between Asda and United Biscuits, who accused Asda of passing off their own brand "Puffin" biscuits as part of the Penguin brand. In March 1997, the court found in favour of United Biscuits regarding passing off, but found that Asda had not infringed the Penguin trademark. United Biscuits itself has been criticised for continuing to use trans fatty acids in the cream filling of Penguins. By December 2007, United Biscuits began to advertise the absence of trans fats from the penguin, having removed the ingredient from this product line.
There are four different variations of the biscuit.  These are:
In 2003, McVitie's produced several "sub-brands" or variations of the Penguin biscuit, Penguin Chukkas, Wing Dings, Flipper Dipper, Splatz and Mini Splatz. These variations were accompanied by a £5 million promotional campaign. In 2008 McVitie's also produced Penguin triple chocolate wafers.
- Karen Fong (1997-05-01). "The problem with look-a-likes: Penguin v. Puffin". Rouse & Co. International. Archived from the original on March 26, 2006. Retrieved 5 October 2006.
- "United biscuits". tfX::the campaign against trans fats in food. Retrieved 5 October 2006.
- "United Biscuits website". Archived from the original on 14 December 2007. Retrieved 14 February 2008.
- Kirsty Needham (2003-04-18). "Branding rivals will never take the biscuit, says Mr Tim Tam". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 10 October 2006.
- "Tim Tam vs Penguin". 2003-01-12. Retrieved 11 October 2006.
- Mike Adamson (2005-08-26). "Cricket -The Ashes 2005 - Fourth Test, second day — Over-by-over: afternoon session". London: Guardian Unlimited. Retrieved 11 October 2006.
- McVities http://www.mcvities.co.uk/products/penguins. Missing or empty
- McVities 'chukks' £5m behind Penguin brand, Food & Drink Europe, 3 June 2003. Retrieved 6 October 2006.