The last month of summer brings some monumental beginnings in tech history, from the start of the world’s most popular search engine to the launch of a video game franchise that still dominates the industry. Read about all the details below.
September 3, 1995: eBay founded
eBay, founded as AuctionWeb, began as a hobby for programmer Pierre Omidyar, who launched the site after spending Labor Day weekend at home coding the site. The first item 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 Internet auction website to facilitate one-to-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 of web traffic.
By June 1996, AuctionWeb had sold $7.2 million worth of merchandise, and Omidyar was unable to manage the site himself. He hired Chris Agarpaos, his first employee, and he is still with the company today. The following month, Omidyar quit his day job and brought in Jeff Skoll as company president. 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 has never lost its status as the premier platform for people-to-people and business-to-customer auctions. Today, eBay is one of the most enduring success stories from the early days of the World Wide Web.
September 7, 1998: Google Incorporated
When Stanford University’s Ph.D. candidates Larry Page and Sergey Brin started the “BackRub” research project in 1996, probably having no idea what would happen. Working in the dorms, the pair, along with the help of programmer Scott Hassan, built a search engine to gather information about backlinks to websites to determine which sites could be used for academic citations and publishing.
In March 1996, Page and Brin launched a web crawler to crawl the web for backlink data. To help sort through the data, Brin programmed a site ranking algorithm to show which sites were linked by the most pages. They quickly realized that this method would yield better results than the conventional search engines of the time.
The first iteration of Google’s search platform launched on Stanford’s website in August 1996, using nearly half of the university’s bandwidth. After Brin and Page published their “Anatomy of a Large Hypertext Web Search Engine” project, they moved Google to the garage of their friend (and future YouTube CEO) Susan Wojcicki. The couple founded the company on September 4, 1998.
By March 1999, Page and Brin had secured several million dollars in 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 had become and remains the world’s largest search engine and one of the most powerful companies in the world.
September 12, 1958: Integrated circuit demonstrated
In the 1960s, the burgeoning computer industry faced a significant problem called the “tyranny of numbers”. At the time, computers were limited in processing power by the ever-increasing number of components needed to process information. And because every transistor, capacitor, resistor, and more had to be connected and soldered by hand, the 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 into 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 the potential of computer processing by several orders of magnitude.
Unbeknownst to Kilby, future Intel co-founder Robert Noyce was developing a similar invention. In 1959, Noyce invented the monolithic integrated circuit, which was built from a single piece of silicon at Fairchild Semiconductor. The monolithic version of the circuit proved to be more practical than Kilby’s invention due to its silicon construction, making mass production easier.
Today, Kilby and Noyce are considered co-inventors of the integrated circuit. And the technology they developed is essential to virtually every electronic device we use every day.
September 13, 1985: Super Mario Bros. released
When Super Mario Bros. on store shelves in 1985, the title character was already well known in video games. Mario debuted four years earlier as Jump Man in the hit arcade game Donkey Kong. He got his own name and twin in the 1983 DK spin-off, mario bros However, the 1985 title would be much more than a sequel to the spin-off game. Instead, it would become a franchise in its own right, and Mario would become the face of video games for a generation.
Nintendo developed the game as a culmination of lessons learned from Donkey Kong games and innovations from side-scrolling titles such as Excitebike, Kung Fuand Devil’s world. Legendary Nintendo designer Shigeru Miyamoto oversaw the development of Super Mario Bros. at the same time as The Legend of Zelda, which will be released five months later. The games were supposed to propel Nintendo’s Famicom console to the forefront of the video game market.
Super Mario Bros. was an instant hit, selling 1.2 million copies by September 1985. By the end of the year, three million copies had been sold in Japan. The North American release coincided with the release of the Famicom’s western counterpart, the Nintendo Entertainment System. Super Mario Bros., as a launch game and later as a companion game, was a ubiquitous sight in every NES household. The game would go on to sell millions of copies annually throughout the 1980s, eventually reaching a total of 58 million sales.
September 23, 2008: First Android device introduced
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 that the camera market would not support their ambitions, the company turned to the mobile phone industry. The goal was to create an operating system that would compete with Symbian and Microsoft Windows Mobile. Both the company’s name and the operating system that came later were in honor of Rubin’s nickname he got while working at Apple: Android.
The first years of the company’s existence were rough. Rubin had great difficulty finding the financing needed to keep the business afloat. 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 in exchange for the cash. In 2005, after courting acquisitions by 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 Google’s umbrella, the team worked in secret as speculation mounted about the company’s intention to buy the mobile phone software startup. These questions were answered when HTC launched the T-Mobile G1 (aka HTC Dream), the first mobile phone with the Android operating system.
While both the handset and the operating system were met with lukewarm reception at the time, Android was officially on the scene and there to stay indefinitely. The Android operating system is one of the most dominant in the world today and is installed on more than three billion active devices.
September 30, 1977: Apple I discontinued
On the last day of September 1977, the first product Apple ever sold, the Apple I, was officially discontinued after just 17 months of sales. Designed and built by Steve Wozniak and Steve Job in a garage in Los Altos, California, the Apple I was quite different from the machines the company had become known for. It was a simple screen printed circuit board with no other components. However, all someone needed to complete the Apple I setup was a television and a keyboard.
Wozniak got the idea to build a computer kit after attending a meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club in Palo Alto in 1975. After creating a prototype, he and Steve Jobs distributed schematics of the machine to their club members and helped them build their own devices. The pair soon began selling pre-printed circuits at a local computer store: The Byte Shop. Wozniak and Jobs both sold their personal assets to finance the business venture. Wozniak sold his HP-65 calculator and Job said goodbye to his van, then the only means of transportation.
The two Steves produced just 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 have been traded in for discounted Apple IIs, some still exist. Today, 62 Apple I computers are confirmed to survive. The last model to go to auction was a prototype hand-soldered by Wozniak that sold for nearly $700,000.