The last month of Summer brings in some monumental starts in the history of technology, from the beginning of the world’s most popular search engine to the start of a video game franchise that still dominates the industry. Read about all the details below.
Founded as AuctionWeb, eBay began as a hobby for programmer Pierre Omidyar, who launched the website after spending Labor Day weekend home coding the site. The first item put up for auction was Omidyar’s broken laser pointer. He set the starting bid at one dollar. About a week later, he sold the item for $14.83 to Canadian collector Mark Fraser.
AuctionWeb took off immediately. It was the first online auction website that facilitated one-on-one transactions between individuals. Soon, Omidyar was forced to upgrade his personal web-hosting subscription to a business plan due to AuctionWeb’s high-volume web traffic.
By June 1996, AuctionWeb had sold 7.2 million dollars worth of goods, and Omidyar could not manage the site alone. He hired Chris Agarpaoas, his first employee, and is still with the company today. The following month, Omidyar quit his day job and brought on Jeff Skoll as president of the company. The three rented a small office in San Jose, California, where the site’s success continued to multiply.
In 1997, the company was renamed eBay, inspired by Omidyar’s consulting firm: Echo Bay Technology Group. It never lost its status as the go-to platform for person-to-person and business-to-customer auctions. Today, eBay remains of the most enduring success stories from the early days of the World Wide Web.
When Stanford University Ph.D. candidates Larry Page and Sergey Brin started the research project “BackRub,” in 1996, they likely had no idea what it would become. Working out of dorm rooms, the pair, along with the help of programmer Scott Hassan, built the search engine around gathering information about website backlinks to determine what pages could be used for academic citations and publishing.
In March 1996, Page and Brin launched a web crawler to scour the web for backlink data. To help sort out the data, Brin programmed a page-ranking algorithm to show which websites had the most pages linking back to them. They quickly realized that this method would yield higher quality results than the conventional search engines of the time.
The first iteration of the Google search platform went live on Stanford’s website in August 1996, using up almost half of the University’s network bandwidth. After they published their paper on the project, “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine,” Brin and Page relocated Google to the garage of their friend (and future YouTube CEO) Susan Wojcicki. The pair incorporated the company on September 4, 1998.
By March 1999, Page and Brin managed to secure several millions of dollars worth of funding from various investors, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and moved the company to Palo Alto, California. The company’s growth exploded. By 2004, Google became, and remains, the world’s largest search engine and one of the most powerful companies in the world.
In the 1960s, the developing computer industry faced a significant problem dubbed “The Tyranny of Numbers.” At the time, computers were limited in computing power by the ever-growing number of components needed to process information. And since each transistor, capacitor, resistor, and more needed to be wired together and soldered by hand, machines became extremely large and difficult to build.
Texas Instruments engineer Jack Kilby tackled the problem in the summer of 1958 by incorporating a transistor, a capacitor, and three resistors onto a single chip. He built a prototype circuit and demonstrated it to Texas Instruments in September 1958. The innovation revolutionized the world of microelectronics as it paved the way for ever smaller microchips and increased computer processing potential by several orders of magnitude.
However, unbeknownst to Kilby, a similar invention was being developed by future Intel co-founder Robert Noyce. In 1959, Noyce invented a monolithic integrated circuit, which was built of a single piece of silicon at Fairchild Semiconductor. The monolithic version of the circuit proved more practical than Kilby’s invention due to its silicon construction, making it easy to mass produce.
Today, Kilby and Noyce are credited as the co-inventors of the integrated circuit. And the technology they pioneered is central to virtually every electronic device we use everyday.
When Super Mario Bros. hit store shelves in 1985, the titular character was already well-known in video gaming. Mario made his debut four years earlier as Jump Man in the smash-hit arcade game Donkey Kong. He received his proper name and a twin brother in the 1983 DK spin-off, Mario Bros. However, the 1985-title would come to be much more than a sequel to a spin-off game. Instead, it would become a franchise in its own right, and Mario would become the face of video gaming for a generation.
Nintendo developed the game as the culmination of lessons learned from the Donkey Kong games and innovations from side-scrolling titles like Excitebike, Kung Fu, and Devil World. Legendary Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto oversaw the development of Super Mario Bros. simultaneously with The Legend of Zelda, which would come out five months later. The games were meant to push Nintendo’s Famicom console to the forefront of the video gaming market.
Super Mario Bros. was an instant hit, selling 1.2 million copies in September 1985. The game would go on to sell three million copies in Japan by the end of the year. The North American release coincided with the release of Famicom’s western counterpart, the Nintendo Entertainment System. As a launch game and later a pack-in game, Super Mario Bros. was a ubiquitous sight at any home with an NES. The game would go on to sell millions of copies per year throughout the 1980s, ultimately reaching a total of 58 million sales.
In October 2003, Andy Rubin, Rich Miner, Nick Sears, and Chris White founded Android Inc. to develop operating systems for digital cameras. However, when they realized the camera market wouldn’t support their ambitions, the company’s pivoted toward the mobile phone industry. The goal was to create an operating system to compete with Symbian and Microsoft Windows Mobile. Both the name of the company and the operating system that came later were in honor of Rubin’s nickname he acquired while working at Apple: Android.
The first few years of the company’s existence were rough. Rubin had great difficulty finding the financing needed to keep the enterprise going. At one point, he received $10,000 in a cash envelope from his close friend and Silicon Valley icon Steve Perlman, who refused to accept a stake in the company for the cash. In 2005, after courting acquisition deals from Samsung and HTC, Rubin sold Android Inc. to Google for an undisclosed amount of money. Google Vice President Dave Lawnee characterized the acquisition as “Google’s best deal ever.”
Under the Google umbrella, the team worked secretly as speculation mounted regarding the company’s intention behind buying the mobile phone software startup. Those questions were answered when HTC released the T-Mobile G1 (aka the HTC Dream), the first mobile phone to feature the Android operating system.
While both the handset and operating system met with tepid reception at the time, Android was officially on the scene and would stay there indefinitely. Today, the Android operating system is one of the most dominant in the world, installed on over three billion active devices.
On the last day of September 1977, the first product Apple ever sold, the Apple I, was officially discontinued after only 17th months on sale. Designed and built by Steve Wozniak and Steve Job in a garage in Los Altos, California, the Apple I was quite different than the machines that the company became known for. It was a simple silkscreened circuit board with no other included components. However, all someone needed to complete an Apple I setup was a television and a keyboard.
Wozniak got the idea to build the kit computers after attending a 1975 meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club in Palo Alto. After creating a prototype, he and Steve Jobs gave out schematics of the machine to their fellow club members and helped them build their own devices. The pair soon began selling the pre-printed circuit boards at the local computer store: The Byte Shop. Wozniak and Jobs both sold their personal property to finance the business venture. Wozniak sold his HP-65 calculator, and Job parted with his van, then his only means of transportation.
The two Steves only produced 200 Apple Is before moving on to its successor, the Apple II, which introduced the all-in-one integrated hardware we know Apple computers for today. Although many Apple Is were traded-in for discounts on the Apple II, some are still out there. Today, 62 Apple I computers are confirmed to survive. The latest model to go on auction was the prototype hand-soldered by Wozniak, which sold for almost $700,000.