6 Big Companies That Started in a Garage

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Some of the biggest and best-known companies today, with net worths in the billions and trillions, started out with the most humble of origins. Silicon Valley, California, home to more than a few corporations that are now household names — such as Hewlett-Packard and Google — was an attractive location for many early tech startups. But many founders simply started their companies wherever they were, and turned to their own garages to set up shop.

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From California to Washington, Texas to New Mexico, the brightest business minds built hardware, software and big dreams, hoping their products would win big. And for the six companies on this list, they likely had no idea just how big their companies would someday be.

Last updated: May 10, 2021

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The online retailing behemoth Amazon.com was once a very humble idea, dreamed up by Jeff Bezos in the garage of a Washington house he rented in 1994, according to GeekWire. He’d quit his job in New York working in hedge funds and took a leap to program the site that would become Amazon, according to Business Insider.

Originally designed just to sell books, today Amazon sells almost anything you can think of and the company has a market value of $1.76 trillion. Though Bezos stepped down as CEO recently, as of April 6, he edged out Elon Musk as the world’s richest person, with a net worth of $177 billion.

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Michael Dell, founder of Dell computers, was just 19 in 1984 when he dropped out of college to devote himself to the business idea that would become Dell computers. He worked out of his off-campus housing garage in Austin, Texas, according to Dell’s website. By 1985, the company designed and built the Turbo PC, featuring an Intel® 8088 processor running at 8MHz, a 10MB hard drive and a 5.25″ floppy drive. Today the company is worth $100 billion.

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Back in 1998, a woman named Susan Wojcicki and her husband, Dennis Troper, rented their garage out to two Stanford doctoral students in Menlo Park, California, to help with their hefty mortgage, according to Business Insider. Those students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, had an idea for a new search engine that would revolutionize how people searched the internet. The founders hired Wojcicki as their 16th employee, and Google went on to become one of the most successful companies of all time. It’s worth over $420 billion today.

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Before most of the founders of the companies on this list were even born, in 1938, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard left their jobs on the East Coast and moved to Palo Alto, California, to go into business together.

They formed what would be Hewlett-Packard (HP), an information technology company largely known for their printers, according to an HP publication. They rented a small garage not far from the Stanford University campus that was dedicated, in 1989, as “the birthplace of Silicon Valley.” The house the garage is attached to was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2007. Today the company is worth over $50 billion.

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In 1945, a couple, Ruth and Elliot Handler, went into business with Harold “Matt” Mattson and formed the Mattel toy company in a shared garage, according to the company website. Their first big success was a toy ukulele in 1947, but they would go on to become famous for such products as Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels toy cars. They would later acquire Fisher-Price, as well and expand into a wide range of physical and virtual toys. Today the company is worth over $6 billion.

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The computer giant that brought us Windows started in an Albuquerque, New Mexico, garage, according to Business Insider. Founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen moved between that garage and the Sundowner Motel, and in the garage, they wrote the first version of their BASIC computer program language specific to an early personal computer known as the Altair 8800, according to Microsoft’s website.

In 1980, the founders signed on to create an operating system for IBM’s first personal computer. They then debuted their first version of Windows in 1985. Today, the company is worth $1 trillion.

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