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Chairman and founder Pierre Omidyar and CEO Meg Whitman of, the online auction service, in California on June 15, 1998.
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The origin story of eBay—which was founded 20 years ago, as AuctionWeb, on Sept. 3, 1995–is fairly well-known: other tech giants have their garages, eBay has its Pez dispenser. Or, rather, founder Pierre Omidyar’s then-fiancée didn’t have a Pez dispenser. It was her desire to more easily expand her collection that inspired Omidyar to create a way for her to arrange sales and purchases online.

But, as any number of start-ups have found, a good idea and good code do not a profitable business make. And the reason for eBay’s transition from small project to a functioning company is much less cute than the Pez story. Omidyar was running the business at home, and his Internet provider started to charge him more, as TIME explained in a 1999 story about the rise in online auctions:

As of May 2015, Forbes placed eBay’s market value at nearly $69 billion.

Read more from 1999, here in the TIME Vault: The Attic of E

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Write to Lily Rothman at

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