What Year Did eBay Start?

The logo of online retailer eBay stands at the CeBIT technology trade fair on March 1, 2011 in Hanover, Germany
Sean Gallup/Staff/Getty Images News/Getty Images

eBay is a household word in over 50 countries around the world. Sellers range from small-volume hobby sellers to mom and pop businesses to giant corporations like Macy's and Dick's sporting goods. Everyone wants a piece of the eBay pie, and for good reason. eBay has 162 million active users worldwide with over 800 million items for sale on the site at any given time. But it wasn't always this way.

eBay grew from one man's idea.

Auction Web

Back in September 1995, Pierre Omidyar launched a site called Auction Web, which would evolve to be the eBay we know today. He had no inkling that his idea would explode into something that is now a household word. Here is the back story on Omidyar and his journey to start the most famous and lucrative selling platforms today.

Born in Paris in 1967, Omidyar moved to the city of Baltimore, Maryland as his physician father accepted a medical residency at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. He had an interest in computers as a teenager, preferring playing on the high school's computers rather than attending PE class. The principal of the school saw Omidyar's potential and rather than punishing him for skipping the gym, hired him to handle programming and printing library catalog cards for a whopping $6 an hour.

Omidyar continued on the path to attend Tufts University and pursue a bachelor's degree.

While studying there, he developed a program for Apple Macintosh for memory management. By 1991, Omidyar and 3 other students created a company to develop programs for pen-computing. He was wise enough to create a rudimentary e-commerce platform he named eShop. Pen-computing didn't take off but the concept for e-commerce caught Microsoft's eye, and they bought the company from Omidyar.

After that debacle, Omidyar moved on to designing web pages. His girlfriend, who later became his wife, who was a Pez dispenser enthusiast and collector. She was frustrated with the internet and her search to find other Pez collectors. In an effort to help his girlfriend, Omidyar created an area on his website for her to reach out to other Pez collectors and network with other like-minded people in the collector space.

Beginning eBay

eBay, or as it was first known, Electronic Bay, began on Labor Day 1995. It was quite rudimentary by today's standards with no guarantees, no fees, no third party interaction to moderate disputes, and no payment platform. Omidyar and his girlfriend were shocked to see that a variety of collectibles, used items, and random stuff began appearing on the site. Within five months, eBay outgrew Omidyar's personal account and had to be moved to a business platform and members were charged a small fee to list on the site. eBay continued to grow by leaps and bounds and Omidyar actually told the New York Times in an interview that "so many checks were piling up at my door that I had to hire help to open them all." He is now worth nearly 8 billion dollars.

Since its beginnings in 1995, eBay has seen explosive growth and is one of the most recognized and accessible companies in history.

A few statistics:

  • 162 million users
  • 25 million sellers
  • 800 million items listed
  • 279 million downloads of the eBay app
  • 11,600 employees

Although eBay started out as a marketplace for collectors, anything and everything can be and has been sold on the site, including:

  • Clothing, shoes, and accessories
  • Automobiles, boats, RVs, and motorcycles
  • Electronics
  • Computers and accessories
  • Cell phones and accessories
  • Toys, games, and puzzles
  • Word War 2 memorabilia
  • Food, candy, and beverages
  • Vintage items
  • Sporting goods
  • Personalized items
  • Music, musical instruments, and gear
  • Wedding supplies
  • Real Estate
  • Pet supplies
  • Tickets and experiences

Virtually anything can be sold on eBay, including a grilled cheese sandwich with a likeness of Jesus, and a yacht that sold for $168 million. eBay has come a log way since its inception and from an idea.

It is one of the greatest success stories in business history.

Updated on August 6, 2016, by Suzanne A. Wells.