Amazon opens for business

Year
1995
Month Day
July 16

On July 16, 1995, Amazon officially opens for business as an online bookseller. Within a month, the fledgling retailer had shipped books to all 50 U.S. states and to 45 countries. Founder Jeff Bezos’s motto was “get big fast,” and Seattle-based Amazon eventually morphed into an e-commerce colossus, selling everything from groceries to furniture to live ladybugs, and helping to revolutionize the way people shop.

Bezos earned an undergraduate degree in computer science and electrical engineering from Princeton University in 1986 then worked in the financial services industry in New York City. In 1994, after realizing the commercial potential of the Internet and determining that books might sell well online, he moved to Washington State and founded Amazon. He initially dubbed the business Cadabra (as in abracadabra) but after someone misheard the name as “cadaver,” Bezos decided to call his startup Amazon, after the enormous river in South America, a moniker he believed wouldn’t box him into offering just one type of product or service.

In the spring of 1995, Bezos invited a small group of friends and former colleagues to check out a beta version of Amazon’s website, and the first-ever order was placed on April 3 of that year, for a science book titled “Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies.” When Amazon.com went live to the general public in July 1995, the company boldly billed itself as “Earth’s biggest bookstore,” although sales initially were drummed up solely by word of mouth and Bezos assisted with assembling orders and driving the packages to the post office. However, by the end of 1996 Amazon had racked up $15.7 million in revenues, and in 1997 Bezos took the company public with an initial public offering that raised $54 million. That same year, Bezos personally delivered his company’s one-millionth order, to a customer in Japan who’d purchased a Windows NT manual and a Princess Diana biography. In 1998, Amazon extended beyond books and started selling music CDs, and by the following year it had added more product categories, such as toys, electronics and tools.

By December 1999, Amazon had shipped 20 million items to 150 countries around the globe. That same month, Bezos was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. In 2000, the company introduced a service allowing individual sellers and other outside merchants to peddle their products alongside Amazon’s own items. Meanwhile, Amazon continued to spend heavily on expansion and didn’t post its first full-year profit until 2003.

In 2007, Amazon debuted its Kindle e-reader; four years later, the company announced it was selling more e-books than print books. Also in 2011, Amazon’s tablet computer, the Kindle Fire, was released. Among a variety of other ventures, Amazon launched a cloud computing and video on demand services in 2006; a studio that develops movies and TV series, in 2010; and an online marketplace for fine art, in 2013, which has featured original works by artists including Claude Monet and Norman Rockwell. Additionally, Amazon has acquired a number of companies, including Zappos and Whole Foods. In 2015, Amazon surpassed Walmart as the world’s most valuable retailer. Two decades after its founding and with Bezos still at the helm, Amazon’s market value was $250 billion. In 2017, Bezos was named the richest man in the world. 

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Microsoft founded

Year
1975
Month Day
April 04

On April 4, 1975, at a time when most Americans used typewriters, childhood friends Bill Gates and Paul Allen found Microsoft, a company that makes computer software. Originally based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Microsoft relocated to Washington State in 1979 and eventually grew into a major multinational technology corporation. In 1987, the year after Microsoft went public, 31-year-old Gates became the world’s youngest billionaire.

Gates and Allen started Microsoft—originally called Micro-Soft, for microprocessors and software—in order to produce software for the Altair 8800, an early personal computer. Allen quit his job as a programmer in Boston and Gates left Harvard University, where he was a student, to focus on their new company, which was based in Albuquerque because the city was home to electronics firm MITS, maker of the Altair 8800. By the end of 1978, Microsoft’s sales topped more than $1 million and in 1979 the business moved its headquarters to Bellevue, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, where Gates and Allen grew up. The company went on to license its MS-DOS operating system to IBM for its first personal computer, which debuted in 1981. Afterward, other computer companies started licensing MS-DOS, which had no graphical interface and required users to type in commands in order to open a program. In 1983, Allen departed Microsoft after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma; he was successfully treated for the disease and went on to pursue a variety of other business ventures.

In 1985, Microsoft released a new operating system, Windows, with a graphical user interface that included drop-down menus, scroll bars and other features. The following year, the company moved its headquarters to Redmond, Washington, and went public at $21 a share, raising $61 million. By the late 1980s, Microsoft had become the world’s biggest personal-computer software company, based on sales. In 1995, amidst skyrocketing purchases of personal computers for home and office use, Windows 95 made its debut. It included such innovations as the Start menu (TV commercials for Windows 95 featured the Rolling Stones singing “Start Me Up”) and 7 million copies of the new product were sold in the first five weeks. During the second half of the 1990s, Internet usage took off, and Microsoft introduced its web browser, Internet Explorer, in 1995.

In 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice and 20 state attorneys general charged Microsoft with violating antitrust laws by using its dominance to drive competitors out of business; in 2001, the company reached a settlement with the government that imposed restrictions on its corporate practices. Also in 2001, Microsoft joined the video-game market with the launch of its Xbox console. 

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First ATM opens for business

Year
1969
Month Day
September 02

On September 2, 1969, America’s first automatic teller machine (ATM) makes its public debut, dispensing cash to customers at Chemical Bank in Rockville Center, New York. ATMs went on to revolutionize the banking industry, eliminating the need to visit a bank to conduct basic financial transactions. By the 1980s, these money machines had become widely popular and handled many of the functions previously performed by human tellers, such as check deposits and money transfers between accounts. Today, ATMs are as indispensable to most people as cell phones and e-mail.

Several inventors worked on early versions of a cash-dispensing machine, and some existed as early as 1967 in other countries. Don Wetzel, an executive at Docutel, a Dallas company that developed automated baggage-handling equipment, is generally credited as coming up with the idea for the modern ATM. Wetzel reportedly conceived of the concept while waiting on line at a bank. The ATM that debuted in New York in 1969 was only able to give out cash, but in 1971, an ATM that could handle multiple functions, including providing customers’ account balances, was introduced.

ATMs eventually expanded beyond the confines of banks and today can be found everywhere from gas stations to convenience stores to cruise ships. There is even an ATM at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Non-banks lease the machines (so-called “off premise” ATMs) or own them outright.

Today there are well over 1 million ATMs around the world, with a new one added approximately every five minutes. It’s estimated that more than 170 million Americans over the age of 18 had an ATM card in 2005 and used it six to eight times a month. Not surprisingly, ATMs get their busiest workouts on Fridays.

In the 1990s, banks began charging fees to use ATMs, a profitable move for them and an annoying one for consumers. Consumers were also faced with an increase in ATM crimes and scams. Robbers preyed on people using money machines in poorly lit or otherwise unsafe locations, and criminals also devised ways to steal customers’ PINs (personal identification numbers), even setting up fake money machines to capture the information. In response, city and state governments passed legislation such as New York’s ATM Safety Act in 1996, which required banks to install such things as surveillance cameras, reflective mirrors and locked entryways for their ATMs.

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President Bill Clinton signs the Digital Millennium Copyright Act into law

Year
1998
Month Day
October 28

According to an ABC news report, it was none other than the pop icon Prince himself who happened upon a 29-second home video of a toddler cavorting to a barely audible background soundtrack of his 1984 hit “Let’s Go Crazy” and subsequently instigated a high-profile legal showdown involving YouTube, the Universal Music Group and a Pennsylvania housewife named Stephanie Lenz. Like the lawsuits that eventually shut down Napster, the case involved a piece of federal legislation that has helped establish a legal minefield surrounding the use of digital music in the age of the Internet. That legislation, called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 28, 1998.

The DMCA bill was heavily supported by the content industries—Hollywood, the music business and book publishers—during its legislative journey through the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. The DMCA was written in order to strengthen existing federal copyright protections against new threats posed by the Internet and by the democratization of high technology. But included in the legislation as it was eventually enacted was a “safe harbor” provision granting companies operating platforms for user-contributed content protection from liability for acts of copyright infringement by those users. It was this provision that the operators of file-sharing platforms like Grokster and Napster tried to hide behind during their unsuccessful attempts to defend themselves against DMCA-inspired litigation in the early 2000s.

The DMCA explicitly authorized copyright holders to issue “takedown” notices to individuals or companies believed to be engaging in infringing use of a copyrighted work. The allegation of infringing use in the case of the “Let’s Go Crazy” toddler came from Universal Music Group acting in its capacity as Prince’s music publisher in June 2007, and YouTube responded by immediately removing the offending video along with roughly 200 others also deemed by Universal to be in violation of the law. Stephanie Lenz appealed YouTube’s takedown of her home video on the basis that the barely audible Prince clip conformed with the long-established doctrine of Fair Use. The video was restored when Universal failed to file a formal infringement lawsuit against Lenz within two weeks.

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