6 Incredible Companies That Started in a Garage

If you think you need a corporate office to get your business started, think again. Find out how these multibillion-dollar companies launched in the unlikeliest of places.
Freelance writer/editor/producer, Various online and print publications
June 02, 2014

However massive they may seem now, at one time, some of the largest and most successful companies around started in someone's garage. Sometimes the garage was at the childhood home of the company's founders. Other times, the entrepreneurs had to rent a garage just to get a little privacy for their ideas to grow.

The humble beginnings of the following six multibillion-dollar companies prove that great ideas are still great ideas, no matter where they're started and developed.

Apple

It's one of the most valuable brands today, so it's often surprising when people learn that Apple's first computers were built in a small garage in Cupertino, California.

In 1976, Steve Wozniak created the first Apple computer. He then joined forces with the late Steve Jobs and another partner, Ronald Wayne, to launch Apple Computer Co. from Jobs' adopted parents' garage. One of their first big orders was from a local retailer who ordered 50 computers at $500 apiece, which they were able to produce in just 30 days. Although Wayne had already abandoned the business, Jobs and Wozniak successfully reached their goal in just 30 days. 

Today, the Silicon Valley home where Jobs grew up is listed as one of the city's historic properties.

Americans Mourn Passing Of Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs - Apple's first computers were simply built in a small garage in Cupertino, Calif.
 

Address: 2066 Crist Drive, Los Altos, California 

Hewlett-Packard

Just 10 miles from the garage where Apple was started, Stanford graduates Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard launched their own company, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), in 1939 with an investment of just $538. In the 12-by-18-foot garage in back of the house they were renting, Hewlett and Packard built their first product: an audio oscillator. One of their first customers was Walt Disney Productions, which bought eight audio oscillators to use for certifying the surround sound systems installed in theaters for the film Fantasia.

The garage was used as a research lab, development workshop and manufacturing facility for nearly a year before the partners outgrew it and moved to roomier quarters nearby. The company was incorporated in 1947 and, 10 years after that, became a public company. Today, Packard's garage is a private museum and is known as the "birthplace of Silicon Valley."

 HP Restores Garage Where Techology Giant Got Its Start - Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard started their company HP in 1939

 

Address: 367 Addison Avenue, Palo Alto, California

Amazon

Four years after being named the youngest vice president of a successful Wall Street investment firm, Jeff Bezos quit his job and moved to Seattle to pursue what he believed to be untapped online retailing opportunities in the book industry. He set up shop in his garage in Bellevue, Washington, and began developing software.

Because he couldn't have meetings in a garage with a potbellied stove, Bezos held meetings at a nearby Barnes & Noble, where most of Amazon's first contracts were negotiated. In July 1995, Bezos launched Amazon.com and sold his first book from his garage startup. Two years after that, Bezos issued his IPO. The company is now the world's largest online retailer.

 

Jeff Bezos Launches Bezos Center For Innovation In Seattle

 

Address: 10704 NE 28th Street, Bellevue, Washington 

Google

Larry Page and Sergey Brin met at Stanford in the mid-1990s and decided they wanted to start a company together. Two years later, the partners established Google's headquarters in Susan Wojcicki's 2,000-foot Menlo Park garage for $1,700 a month. At the time, Wojcicki—who held a senior vice president position at Google until January 2014—was a recent business school graduate and rented out her garage to the Google guys in order to make her mortgage payments.

Within one year, the Google team would outgrow the garage space and move to an office in Palo Alto along with their eight employees.

 

Larry Page and Sergey Brin met at Stanford in the mid-1990s and decided they wanted to start a company together. Two years later, Google sets up its headquarters in Susan Wojcicki's 2,000-foot Menlo Park garage for $1,700 a month.

 

Address: 232 Santa Margarita Avenue, Menlo Park, California

The Walt Disney Co.

It's the highest-grossing media conglomerate in the world, and it all started in the summer of 1923 in a one-car garage that belonged to Walt Disney's uncle, Robert Disney. At the time, the company was called The Disney Brothers Studio and was located about 45 minutes from today's Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California. In this small space, the team filmed the Alice Comedies, which would later inspire Disney's version of Alice in Wonderland. 

A few months later, Disney, along with his brother Roy, moved to a bigger lot down the street from their uncle's house, which is where Disney signed a deal with Universal Studios to distribute the Alice Comedies. And the rest, they say, is animation history.

 

Walt Disney

 

Address: 4406 Kingswell Avenue, Los Angeles, California

Mattel

In 1945, before Mattel became the American toy manufacturing company, company founders Harold "Matt" Matson and Ruth and Elliot Handler were making picture frames out of a Southern California garage. From the scraps of the picture frames, which were made of Lucite and flocked wood, Elliot started making dollhouse furniture. Ruth, who worked at Paramount Pictures, is said to have landed her husband's first order by bringing a suitcase full of the dollhouse furniture to a store on Wilshire Boulevard not far from her job.

The success of the dollhouse furniture pushed Elliot and Ruth (Matson had left the company due to poor health) to focus solely on manufacturing toys. In 1959, Ruth invented the Barbie doll, named after her daughter, Barbara.

 

In 1945, before Mattel became the American toy manufacturing company, Ruth and Elliot Handler were making picture fames in their Southern California garage. From

 

But these uber successful companies aren't the only ones that started from small garages. Cloud company Box.net, mobile payment company Square and Tesla Motors were all launched from a garage. And garages aren't the only usual place companies are born. Nike started out of founder Phil Knight's green Plymouth Valiant's trunk, and the beginning of Michael Dell's computer empire came together in his dorm room at the University of Texas at Austin. 

The lesson here is that the most amazing ideas have no boundaries. From small, rented garages to multibillion-dollar companies, anyone who's passionate about an idea can start—and grow—that idea anywhere, as long as they have a little privacy and room to shut out the rest of the world. 

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Photos: Getty Images