27 years has passed since the first-ever eBay item was sold

Virgin Radio

6 Sep 2022, 09:35

Credit: Twitter/Getty

But what was it?

Warning. This story is going to make you feel like a dinosaur. Unless you already are a dinosaur. In which case, how do you use your computer keyboard with those tiny hands of yours?

So many questions.

Loads of cool stuff happened in 1995. NASA’s Galileo spacecraft arrived at Jupiter. Michael Jordan returned to the NBA. And Steve Fossett became the first person to ever make a solo flight across the Pacific Ocean in a hot air balloon. The big showoff.

But also, in the September of 1995, two men - named Pierre Omidyar and Mark Fraser - made history with an online exchange.

The new shopping website wasn't ubiquitous back then. Online shopping wasn't even really a thing. It wasn't called eBay at the time either. It was AuctionWeb. The site was launched by Omidyar himself, who spent the entire Labor Day weekend that year writing code for it on his home computer.

Omidyar described AuctionWeb as a place 'dedicated to bringing together buyers and sellers in an honest and open marketplace'. But he needed an item to test it's possibilities.

He chose, for reasons perhaps known only to him, a broken laser pointer.

He listed the product for just $1, and for a week nothing happened. But then it started – people began placing bids until the pointer ended up selling to Fraser, from Canada, for $14.83.

No one knew the identity of the broken laser pointer or his reasoning for making the purchase, until 2015, but that changed when Omidyar shared a clip of Fraser at the 20th anniversary eBay Seller Summit. His reason for buying the pointer pretty much sums up why eBay was set up in the first place.

"Back in about 1995 I was on the road doing quite a lot of presentations," he says in the video, "and I'd seen a couple of laser pointers and I thought 'boy I want one of those'.

"They cost something over $100 and I couldn't afford one, my boss certainly wasn't going to go for it, but I'm an electronics geek so I thought I'd build one.

He continued; "So I acquired a laser diode from one of our electronics suppliers and went about designing a circuit to make it work. Then I discovered that they put out a conical diverging beam and this just wasn't going to work."

Don't worry, we don't know what a conical diverging beam is either.

He said he was a little bit 'offended' after the eBay team later said 'people will buy anything' when discussing his purchase, but he's got over it.

Fraser said he's gone on to buy 2,000+ items from the sales platform.

"I'm just really, really grateful that eBay is there," he continued. "It's allowed me to indulge myself in collectables, but most importantly in hobbies that have been quite a lot of value."

That sound you can hear? That's the sound of us, and maybe you, disintegrating into dust.