This Month in Tech History: September

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The last month of summer brings some monumental beginnings 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 about all the details below.

September 3, 1995: Founding of eBay

eBay logo on a large black sign
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Founded as AuctionWeb, eBay began as a hobby for programmer Pierre Omidyar, who launched the website after spending Labor Day weekend at home programming the site. The first item to be put up for auction was Omidyar’s broken laser pointer. He set the opening offer 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 individual transactions between individuals. Soon Omidyar was forced to upgrade his personal web hosting subscription to a business plan due to high volume of web traffic from AuctionWeb.

By June 1996, AuctionWeb had sold $7.2 million worth of goods, and Omidyar could not manage the site alone. He hired Chris Agarpaoas, his first employee, and she is still with the company today. The following month, Omidyar resigned from his day job and hired Jeff Skoll as president of the company. The three of them rented a small office in San Jose, California, where the success of the site continued to multiply.

In 1997, the company was renamed eBay, inspired by Omidyar’s consultancy, 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 Stanford University doctoral candidates Larry Page and Sergey Brin started the “BackRub” research project in 1996, they probably had no idea what it would become. Working from their bedrooms, the couple, along with the help of programmer Scott Hassan, built the search engine around gathering information about website backlinks to determine which pages could be used for academic citations and publications.

In March 1996, Page and Brin released a web crawler to scour the web for backlink data. To help rank 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 return higher quality results than the conventional search engines of the time.

The first iteration of Google’s search platform went live on the Stanford website in August 1996, using nearly half of the University’s network bandwidth. After publishing their article on the project, “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertext Web Search Engine,” Brin and Page moved Google into the garage of their friend (and future CEO of YouTube) Susan Wojcicki. The couple incorporated the company on September 4, 1998.

By March 1999, Page and Brin managed to secure 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 skyrocketed. In 2004, Google became and remains the world’s largest search engine and one of the world’s most powerful companies.

September 12, 1958: Demonstration of the integrated circuit

processor on a circuit board
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In the 1960s, the developing computer industry faced a major problem called “The Tyranny of Numbers.” At the time, computers had limited computing power due to the ever-increasing number of components needed to process information. And since every transistor, capacitor, resistor, and more needed to be wired 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 on a single chip. He built a prototype circuit and demonstrated it to Texas Instruments in September 1958. The innovation revolutionized the world of microelectronics, paving the way for ever smaller microchips and increasing computer processing potential by orders of magnitude.

Unbeknownst to Kilby, however, future Intel co-founder Robert Noyce was developing a similar invention. 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 easier to mass produce.

Today, Kilby and Noyce are recognized as the co-inventors of the integrated circuit. And the technology they pioneered is central to virtually every electronic device we use every day.

September 13, 1985: Super Mario Bros. is released.

When Super Mario Bros. hit store shelves in 1985, the main character was already well-known in video games. Mario made his debut four years earlier as Jump Man in the 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 be much more than a sequel to a spin-off game. Instead, it would become a franchise in its own right, with Mario becoming the face of video games 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 excite bike, Kung FuY devil’s 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 intended to propel Nintendo’s Famicom console to the forefront of the video game market.

Super Mario Bros. it was an instant success, 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 as a bundle game, Super Mario Bros. was a ubiquitous sight in any home with an NES. The game would sell millions of copies per year throughout the 1980s, eventually reaching a total of 58 million sales.

September 23, 2008: Presentation of the first Android device

Man's hand holding HTC Dream smartphone
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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. Both the name of the company and the operating system that followed were in honor of the nickname that Rubin acquired while working at Apple: Android.

The first years of the company’s existence were tough. Rubin had great difficulty finding the financing necessary to keep the company going. At one point, he received $10,000 in a cash envelope from close friend and Silicon Valley icon Steve Perlman, who refused to take a stake in the company for the cash. In 2005, after pursuing acquisition deals with 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”.

Under the Google umbrella, the team worked in secret as speculation mounted about the company’s intention to buy the mobile phone software startup. Those questions were answered when HTC launched the T-Mobile G1 (also known as HTC Dream), the first mobile phone with the Android operating system.

While both the phone and the operating system received lukewarm reception at the time, Android was officially on the scene and would remain 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: Apple I discontinued

On the last day of September 1977, the first product Apple 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 silk-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 kit computers 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 their fellow club members and helped them build their own devices. The couple soon began selling the pre-printed circuit boards at the local computer store: The Byte Shop. Wozniak and Jobs sold their personal assets to finance the business venture. Wozniak sold his HP-65 calculator and Job parted ways with his truck, 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 that we know Apple computers for today. Although many Apple Is were traded in for discounted Apple IIs, some are still available. Today, 62 Apple I computers are confirmed to survive. The last model to go up for auction was Wozniak’s hand-welded prototype, which sold for nearly $700,000.