If there’s one thing Maker culture has taught us, all entrepreneurs and inventors need is a vision, a will and a garage.
On March 5, 1975, the Homebrew Computer Club first met in Gordon French’s garage in Menlo Park, California. The club was an informal group of electronic enthusiasts and technically-minded hobbyists who gathered to trade parts, circuits, and information pertaining to DIY construction of computing devices. From the ranks of this club came the founders of many microcomputer companies, ranging from Steve Wozniak and Roger Melen to Adam Osborne and Bob Marsh. Though each of the Homebrew members were hobbyists at heart, a majority of them possessed either a professional electronic engineering or computer programming background.
With the Maker Faire season upon us, we thought we’d highlight some of the world’s most powerful and profitable companies who got their start in true Maker fashion: inside a garage. Nothing quite epitomizes the American (DIY) Dream like an aspiring entrepreneur who manages to turn a simple prototype into mass-scale production, all from the confines of his or her home. Keep in mind, this was long before the days of Kickstarter and Indiegogo.
Today, in the midst of the next industrial revolution, we continue to see a rise in DIYers empowered to make, manufacture and market their own homegrown creations. Evident by the list below — and the assortment of projects on display at Maker Faire events — the ideas that can be brought to life with just a bit of tinkering, a mere vision and a crowded workbench (under dim lighting with the remnant odor of gasoline) is rather astonishing.
Started by Jeff Bezos as an online bookstore, Amazon had its humble beginnings in Jeff’s own garage in Bellevue, Washington. He sold his first book in July 1995 and issued his IPO two years later in 1997. Today, it’s the world’s largest online retailer.
Address: 10704 NE 28th, Bellevue, Washington
Located in Los Altos, California, this was the place where Jobs and Wozniak churned out the very first Apple computer. Jobs and Wozniak, ages 21 and 26 respectively, began Apple Computers by selling 50 of Wozniak’s Apple I Computer at $500 apiece to a local retailer. Working out of Jobs’ room, and then his garage, the duo started selling units for $666.66.
Address: 2066 Crist Dr, Los Altos, California
Less than an hour down the road from Disneyland, there’s a house in Los Angeles where The Walt Disney Company got its start. In 1923, the house belonged to Walt Disney’s uncle, Robert Disney. Walt and his brother Roy moved in with their uncle and set up “The First Disney Studio” in the one-car garage out back. There they started filming the Alice Comedies, which was part of the original Alice’s Wonderland. A couple years and a few studio locations later, Walt Disney created the Mickey Mouse character, and well, need we say more?
Address: 4651 Kingswell Ave, Los Angeles, California
Google originated as an idea for a better optimized search engine by Stanford graduate students Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1996. In September 1998, the pair incorporated Google Inc. and moved into their first “office” inside friend Susan Wojcicki’s garage in Menlo Park, California.
Address: 232 Santa Margarita Ave, Menlo Park, California
In 1901, William Harley designed an engine for a bicycle frame and for the next two years, Harley and his friend, Arthur Davidson, worked on their first motor-bicycle within a 10 by 15-foot wooden shed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
In 1939, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard founded HP in Packard’s garage with an initial investment of $538. The duo’s first product was an audio oscillator and one of their first customers was Walt Disney (coincidentally, also on this list) who purchased eight oscillators to develop the sound system for the movie Fantasia. The HP Garage in Palo Alto is known as the birthplace of Silicon Valley.
Address: 367 Addison Ave, Palo Alto, California
With nothing more than a few resources and some available garage space in Arizona, childhood friends Paul Allen and Bill Gates founded what would go on to become the behemoth Microsoft Corporation in 1975. It was here that they licensed their first operating system to IBM for $80,000.
In 1948, at the age of 20, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman started Lotus Cars by constructing the first Lotus racing car in stables behind the Railway Hotel in Hornsey, London. Chapman used a 1930s Austin Seven and a power drill to build the Lotus Mark I. Fast forward several decades and the company is now one of the leading British manufacturers of sports and racing cars.
Address: 472 Hornsey Rd, London N19 4EF, United Kingdom
Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler founded Mattel out of a garage in Southern California as picture frame company in 1945. To get the most out of their materials, they started using picture frame scrapes to create dollhouses.
Yankee Candle Company
In 1969, a 16-year-old Michael Kittredge made his scented candle in his South Hadley, Massachusetts garage out of melted crayons as a gift for his mother. As soon as neighbors expressed interest in buying his creations, Kittredge began them in larger quantities. And so, an enterprise was formed… (Or should we say sparked?)