The History of eBay

For years, the history of eBay was depicted as the saga of a Pez collector who wanted to found a new place where Pez collectors could get together and trade their dispensers.

ebay logo

That revisionist history was created by a PR team who instructed eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to recount this history for its romantic PR value. The first item ever sold on eBay, the story went, was a Pez dispenser.

Not so, as eBay founder Omidyar admitted years later. The first item ever sold on the online auction giant was a broken laser pointer in 1995. At that time, eBay was a domain name for Omidyar’s website that was named after his consulting company, Echo Bay. The site was not, however, primarily an auction site. The auction portion was an afterthought and was named AuctionWeb.

eBay Inc. is Born

AuctionWeb grew quickly, leading the founder to hire several employees to take care of the many tasks that were now required. After two years, the site name was changed to eBay and the entire site was devoted to online auctions.

In 1998, Omidyar hired experienced CEO Meg Whitman to head the company that now had 30 employees. Over the next 10 years, her leadership helped the company to grow into an enormous multinational that now has about 15,000 employees. During her reign as CEO, eBay purchased PayPal,, Skype, Bill Me Later and a 25 percent stake in Craigslist, expanding eBay’s online business empire.

In 2008, Meg Whitman stepped down as CEO and John Donahoe took on the position. With the new CEO came a number of major changes to the site, such as lower listing prices and higher commission pricing.

Largest Online Auction Site

There are a lot of websites that strive to give eBay some competition, and a few have enjoyed moderate success. There are just as many, however, that have failed. Yahoo auctions went out of business after a few years and other auction websites have stayed relatively small when compared to eBay.

In 2007, eBay sellers sold almost $60 billion worth of merchandise. eBay itself earned $7.67 billion during this period. The company laid off about 1,000 employees in 2008, and the recession began to impact sales. However, revenues have remained steady with a decrease in revenues of about 1 percent in 2008.

Selling on eBay

Millions of eBay members now sell on the site with their own eBay business. eBay has made it easy for people to start a small eBay business in their homes, and has lead to the creation of many large businesses as well. Thousands of people in the U.S. work in their own small eBay business, selling items on eBay full time. Over 700,000 people in the U.S. now rely on their eBay sales as part of their income.

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