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Billion-Dollar Companies That Were Started in Garages

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If you’re like most people, the garage is where you store your car, tools and clutter you can’t part with — it’s not where you house your place of business. Some of the most successful businesses, however, started out in people’s garages.

From mega-giants like Amazon to the maker of everyone’s favorite brand of candles, click through to see 10 companies that expanded into big-time businesses.

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Amazon

Year Established: 1995
Current Value: $427 billion

In 1995, Princeton graduate Jeff Bezos started the online bookstore in his home garage. He always had a vision for Amazon to be “an everything store.” In those early days, however, the servers to facilitate transactions required so much power that even the use of a hairdryer could blow a fuse.

The garage space provided him with the means to store goods, conduct transactions and send shipments. In the first few months of operation, Amazon had shipped items to 45 different countries.

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Microsoft

Year Established: 1975
Current Value: $507.5 billion

One of the most famous companies that started in garages is Microsoft. The business paved the way for computing in an era of typewriters.

Childhood friends Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded the company in 1975 in Albuquerque, N.M. Allen dropped out of Washington State University and Gates dropped out of Harvard to pursue this dream. After achieving computer software success, the business moved its headquarters to Bellevue, Wash., a suburb of Seattle, where the pair grew up.

By 1987, Gates had become the world’s youngest billionaire at 31 — not bad for a college dropout.

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Apple

Year Established: 1976
Current Value: $752 billion

Apple is synonymous with iPhones today, but it all began with computers in 1976. College dropouts Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak wanted to make user-friendly computers and launched the Apple I out of Jobs’ garage in Los Altos, Calif. Wozniak has said in recent years that the “garage” served as more of a storage facility than a design center, however.

The company went public in 1980, shortly after sales jumped from $7.8 million to $117 million with the release of Apple II and colored graphics.

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Google

Year Established: 1998
Current Value: $101.8 billion

Google has one of the more well-known startup stories. In 1995, Larry Page and Sergey Brin met when Page was receiving a tour of Stanford for graduate school. The two got to work in a dorm room before upgrading to garage office space.

At Stanford, the pair built a search engine (formerly called Backrub) that used links to determine the importance of individual pages on the web. It didn’t take long for Silicon Valley investors to notice. Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim wrote the duo a check for $100,000, and the rest is history.

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Hewlett-Packard (HP)

Year Established: 1939
Current Value: $13.2 billion

Hewlett-Packard is the first tech company to launch from a Palo Alto garage. Today, the business is one of the world’s leading technology companies.

Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard first met in 1934, but it wasn’t until four years later that the two began to work part time in a rented garage with $538 put into capital. Their first product was the audio oscillator, used to test sound equipment. This was the HP Model 200A. The company got its big break when Walt Disney ordered several HP Model 200B oscillators for its upcoming animated film, “Fantasia.”

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Mattel

Year Established: 1948
Current Value: $8.5 billion

Today, Mattel is best known for Barbie and Fisher-Price, so it might be hard to believe the product line began with picture frames and a meeting of the minds. In 1945, Elliot Handler and his wife Ruth partnered with Matt Matson, a former colleague, and constructed these picture frames out of a Southern California garage.

Soon the group created Mattel, inspired by the names Matt and El. Despite the success of the frames, Elliot began an artistic side gig: constructing dollhouse furniture out of the picture frame scraps.

Eventually, the doll-sized furniture sales overtook the sales of the picture frames, and the team decided to shift its focus to toys. The first Barbie doll debuted in 1959.

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Harley-Davidson

Year Established: 1903
Current Value: $10.7 billion

Like other startup stories, Harley-Davidson’s origins are humble. It didn’t start in a garage but a small, wooden shed in Milwaukee with the words “Harley-Davidson Motor Company” scrawled across the door.

It was there that William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson constructed their first motorcycle in 1903 after Harley designed and completed the blueprint for the motorized bicycle two years prior. Soon, the bike would be picked up by a Chicago dealer, creating the need for a bigger production facility.

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Yankee Candle

Year Established: 1969
Current Value: Unknown

A high school student’s desire for a unique Christmas gift for his mom became a million-dollar idea. Michael Kittredge was 16 when he used a collection of items around the house to create a scented candle for his mom. A neighbor saw his creation and asked to buy it before he could give to her, however. The money she gave him was enough to make more candles — one for his mom and another to sell.

Realizing the potential of this idea, Kittredge continued to make candles out of his garage that Christmas season and opened a store near the college campus at Mount Holyoke within five years. Now, the company operates worldwide.

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Maglite

Year Established: 1955
Current Value: Unknown, sales reached $150 million as of 2003

There’s a good chance you have owned or used a Maglite flashlight. These quality lights are the creation of Tony Maglica, a Croatian immigrant who used his machinist skills to build a business in his Los Angeles garage. He managed to design these products in his off hours from different odd jobs to make ends meet.

Word eventually got out about the product and it was picked up by the military and other industries. By 1974, the company was incorporated. In 1979, Maglica designed the Maglite flashlight specifically for the police force, taking the company to new heights.

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Dell

Year Established: 1984
Current Value: $13.5 billion

When you’re in college and don’t have a basement, you use the next best thing to launch your business. Dell founder Michael Dell was enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin when he began selling personal PCs from his dorm room.

Dell wanted to sell directly to the customer and make prices lower. His genius idea took off and allowed him to drop out of school before securing actual office space in North Austin.

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