This Month in Tech History: September – Review Geek
The last month of summer marks a monumental start in the history of technology, from the start of the world’s most popular search engine to the start of a video game franchise that still dominates the industry. Read all the details below.
September 3, 1995: Creation of eBay
Founded as AuctionWeb, eBay began as a hobby for programmer Pierre Omidyar, who launched the website after spending Labor Day weekend at home coding the site. The first auction item 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 site that facilitated individual transactions between individuals. Soon, Omidyar was forced to upgrade his personal web hosting plan to a business plan due to AuctionWeb’s high web traffic.
By June 1996, AuctionWeb had sold $7.2 million worth of merchandise and Omidyar could not run 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 hired Jeff Skoll as president of the company. The three rented a small office in San Jose, California, where the site’s success grew steadily.
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 go-to platform for person-to-person and business-to-customer auctions. Today, eBay remains one of the most enduring success stories from the early days of the World Wide Web.
September 7, 1998: Google Incorporated
When the Stanford University Ph.D. candidates Larry Page and Sergey Brin started the research project “BackRub”, in 1996, they probably had no idea what it would become. Working from dorms, the duo, with the help of programmer Scott Hassan, built the search engine around collecting information about website backlinks to determine which pages could be used for academic citations and publication.
In March 1996, Page and Brin launched a web crawler to scour the web for backlink data. To help sort the data, Brin programmed a page ranking algorithm to show which websites had the most pages linking 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 nearly half the university’s network bandwidth. After publishing their paper on the project, “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine,” Brin and Page moved Google into the garage of their friend (and future YouTube CEO) Susan Wojcicki. The couple incorporated the company on September 4, 1998.
In March 1999, Page and Brin successfully secured multi-million dollar funding from various investors, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and moved the business to Palo Alto, California. The company’s growth exploded. In 2004, Google became, and remains, the world’s largest search engine and one of the most powerful companies in the world.
September 12, 1958: demonstration of the integrated circuit
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-increasing number of components needed to process information. And since every transistor, capacitor, resistor and more had to be wired together 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, capacitor, and three resistors on a single chip. He built a prototype circuit and demonstrated it at Texas Instruments in September 1958. The innovation revolutionized the world of microelectronics, paving the way for ever-smaller microchips and increasing the potential for multi-order computer processing of greatness.
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 from 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 recognized as the co-inventors of the integrated circuit. And the technology they developed is at the heart of virtually every electronic device we use every day.
September 13, 1985: Super Mario Bros. released.
When Super Mario Bros. Arriving on store shelves in 1985, the titular character was already well known in video games. Mario debuted four years earlier as Jump Man in the hit arcade game donkey kong. He was given his own name and a twin brother in the 1983 DK spin-off, Mario Brothers. However, the 1985 title would become 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 gaming for a generation.
Nintendo developed the game as the culmination of lessons learned from donkey kong games and innovations of side-scrolling titles like 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 intended 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. The game would sell three million copies in Japan by the end of the year. The North American release coincided with the release of the 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 in any home with an NES. The game would sell millions of copies a year throughout the 1980s, eventually reaching a total of 58 million in sales.
September 23, 2008: Launch of the first Android device
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 to compete with Symbian and Microsoft Windows Mobile. The company name and the operating system that came later were in honor of Rubin’s nickname he acquired while working at Apple: Android.
The first years of the company’s existence were difficult. Rubin had great difficulty finding the necessary financing to run the business. 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 money. In 2005, after courting takeover deals from Samsung and HTC, Rubin sold Android Inc. to Google for an undisclosed amount of money. Google Vice President Dave Lawnee called the acquisition “the best deal Google has ever made.”
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 the HTC Dream), the first mobile phone with the Android operating system.
While the handset and operating system met with a lukewarm 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 more than three billion active devices.
September 30, 1977: Shutdown of Apple I
On the last day of September 1977, the first Apple product ever sold, the Apple I, was officially discontinued after only 17 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 from the machines the company became known for. It was a simple screen printed circuit board with no other components included. However, all someone needed to complete an Apple I setup was a TV and a keyboard.
Wozniak got the idea to build the computers as a kit after attending a 1975 meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club in Palo Alto. After creating a prototype, he and Steve Jobs gave schematics of the machine to fellow club members and helped them build their own devices. The pair soon began selling the pre-printed circuit boards to the local computer store: The Byte Shop. Both Wozniak and Jobs sold their personal assets to fund the business. 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 from Apple computers today. Although many Apple Is have been traded in for Apple II discounts, some are still around. Today, 62 Apple I computers have survived. The last model auctioned was the hand-welded prototype by Wozniak, which sold for almost $700,000.