Amazon's extraordinary evolution: A timeline

Source: Getty/CNN

As large and ubiquitous as Amazon is today, it's difficult to remember that it started in a garage.

Jeff Bezos and his first few employees packed books and took them to the post office themselves in those first days. Even after the company had built warehouses to store inventory, making it a business with real revenue and real assets, plenty of investors wrote Amazon off as another dot-com fever dream, destined to be gobbled up or wiped out by Borders and Barnes & Noble.

Instead, Borders filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011 and has since closed hundreds of stores. Barnes & Noble has been left teetering. Meanwhile, Amazon has moved into almost every imaginable type of product, media, and service. It will account for nearly half of online retail sales in 2018, according to eMarketer, and is laying the groundwork for a physical retail business — equipped with labor-saving technologies like cashier-free checkout that has legacy grocery and convenience chains scrambling to catch up. Here are some key events in Amazon's rapid evolution.

Amazon is born – July 5

Amazon is born

July 5
Amazon is born
Source: Getty

Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie open an online bookstore in Seattle because of the city's reputation as a tech hub and because Washington's small population meant that they wouldn't have to charge sales taxes to most of their customer base. Bezos finances the company with $10,000 from his own pocket. He and the small staff spend their early days working in his garage on desks made out of doors purchased from Home Depot.

1997

Amazon goes public – May 15
Share price: $1.96*

Amazon goes public
Share price: $1.96*

May 15
Amazon goes public
Source: Getty

Amazon goes public at $18 per share, giving it a valuation of $300 million. In its filing, the company warns investors that it expects to report "substantial operating losses for the foreseeable future," due to heavy investments in technology and marketing as it seeks to beat back tough competition from bookselling giant Barnes & Noble.
*After adjusting for three subsequent stock splits, the closing price of Amazon's shares on their first day of trading was $1.96.

A second distribution facility opens – November 18
Share price: $4.42

A second distribution facility opens
Share price: $4.42

November 18
A second distribution facility opens
Source: AP

As demand increases, Amazon opens a second distribution center in New Castle, Delaware, in order to serve customers on the East Coast. The 200,000-square foot facility is the beginning of a network that will eventually touch almost every state in the nation.

1998

Amazon expands into music – June 11
Share price: $10.42

Amazon expands into music
Share price: $10.42

June 11
Amazon expands into music
Source: CNN

Amazon expands its offerings and starts selling CDs and DVDs. The music section launched with 125,000 titles — far more than the average physical music store — and allowed shoppers to listen to song clips as well as view recommendations matched to their mood.

1999

Amazon secures "1-Click" patent – September 28
Share price: $65.88

Amazon secures "1-Click" patent
Share price: $65.88

September 28
Amazon secures 1-Click patent
Source: Amazon

Amazon patents the ability to purchase an item online with the click of a mouse. Called 1-Click, the technology gives the company an early advantage by prompting customers to buy more and allowing the company to collect their data. Amazon would later sue Barnes & Noble for infringement, forcing other websites to license the technology until the patent expired in 2017.

Amazon launches 3rd party seller marketplace – September 30
Share price: $79.94

Amazon launches 3rd party seller marketplace
Share price: $79.94

September 30
Amazon launches 3rd party seller marketplace
Source: Shutterstock/Amazon/CNN

Originally cast as a way for shoppers to find rare and collectible books and other specialty items, Amazon allows third-party sellers to hawk used merchandise in what it called zShops (now known as the Marketplace). That sparks a huge increase in the volume of transactions on Amazon.com. Over the first four months, a quarter of a million customers bought something using the service.

Amazon takes a hit after dot-com bubble bursts – December 10
Share price: $106.69

Amazon takes a hit after dot-com bubble bursts
Share price: $106.69

December 10
Amazon reaches its dot-com peak
Source: Getty

Although it would survive the dot-com crash, Amazon wasn't totally immune. Its stock peaked at nearly $106 a share at the end of 1999, before taking a long slide, pummeled by negative analyst reports. The company would lay off 15% of its workforce before the stock price recovered.

Jeff Bezos named Time's Person of the Year – December 27
Share price: $81.13

Jeff Bezos named Time's Person of the Year
Share price: $81.13

December 27
Jeff Bezos named Time's Person of the Year
Source: Time

Time Magazine names Bezos Person of the Year, dubbing him "the king of cybercommerce." At age 35, Bezos is the fourth-youngest recipient of the distinction.

2002

Amazon starts selling clothing – November 7
Share price: $19.12

Amazon starts selling clothing
Share price: $19.12

November 7
Amazon starts selling clothing
Source: Amazon/CNN

Amazon announces a partnership with several major clothing companies to offer 400 apparel brands in its online store. Amazon has now moved far beyond books, with offerings that include electronics, toys, kitchenware, and even magazine subscriptions.

2003

Amazon launches web hosting business – June 10
Share price: $34.07

Amazon launches web hosting business
Share price: $34.07

June 10
Amazon Web Services launches
Source: Amazon/CNN

The company starts to generate extra income by licensing its platform to other e-commerce sites, like Borders.com and Target.com. Fifteen years later, Amazon Web Services dominates cloud hosting and is one of the company's biggest revenue drivers.

2004

Amazon enters China – August 19
Share price: $38.63

Amazon enters China
Share price: $38.63

August 19
Amazon enters China
Source: AP

Amazon pays $75 million to buy Joyo, the largest online seller of books and electronics in the growing Chinese market. But the division — renamed Amazon China — faced stiff competition. As of 2018, it only had 0.7% of online sales, trailing far behind Alibaba's 58.2%, according to eMarketer.

2005

Amazon Prime debuts – February 2
Share price: $41.88

Amazon Prime debuts
Share price: $41.88

February 2
Amazon Prime debuts
Source: Getty

During an earnings call, Bezos announces a $79-a-year loyalty program that includes free two-day shipping on any order. Now, with more than 100 million members worldwide, Prime is considered one of Amazon's most valuable assets.

2007

The Kindle goes on sale – November 19
Share price: $79.18

The Kindle goes on sale
Share price: $79.18

November 19
The Kindle goes on sale
Source: AP/CNN

Just as the holiday shopping season is about kick into full gear, Amazon unveils its Kindle. The electronic reading device enables users to wirelessly download books, magazines and newspaper articles among other content. Starting price: $399.

Amazon announces a new headquarters in Seattle – December 21
Share price: $91.26

Amazon announces a new headquarters in Seattle
Share price: $91.26

December 21
Amazon announces a new headquarters in Seattle
Source: Getty

In a decision that will transform Seattle's real estate market, Amazon makes a deal with the city and a developer to consolidate its scattered workforce into 1.6 million square feet in a gritty industrial neighborhood north of downtown. The city raises height limits to accommodate larger buildings. The company's new headquarters will eventually house 40,000 employees in more than 8 million square feet.

2008

Amazon acquires audiobooks company Audible* – January 31
Share price: $77.70

Amazon acquires audiobooks company Audible
Share price: $77.70

January 31
Amazon acquires audiobooks company Audible
Source: Shutterstock/Amazon/CNN

Amazon pays $300 million for Audible, which comes with a library of 80,000 programs in the United States and Europe. The move comes just two months after Amazon launched its Kindle device for e-books. Audible now holds 41% of the audiobook market, which has been growing rapidly with the rise of smartphones and streaming-enabled car stereo systems.

2009

Amazon acquires shoe shopping site Zappos – July 22
Share price: $88.79

Amazon acquires shoe shopping site Zappos
Share price: $88.79

July 22
>Amazon acquires shoe shopping site Zappos
Source: Getty/CNN

If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em. Amazon buys online shoe retailer Zappos in an all-stock deal worth nearly $900 million. Despite attempts to penetrate the shoe market Amazon hadn't been able to catch up with Zappos.com, which provides free returns and overnight shipping. After the deal closed, Amazon allowed the company to remain based in Henderson, Nevada, under CEO Tony Hsieh.

2012

Amazon acquires robotics company Kiva Systems – March 19
Share price: $185.52

Amazon acquires robotics company Kiva Systems
Share price: $185.52

March 19
Amazon acquires robotics company Kiva Systems
Source: Getty

Amazon buys Kiva Systems, a Massachusetts-based maker of warehouse robots, for $775 million. The deal allows Amazon to amp up automation at its fulfillment centers, delivering products faster and with less need for human staff. Amazon later terminated Kiva's client relationships with retailers like Office Depot and the Gap in order to keep the technology to itself.

2013

Jeff Bezos announces intention to buy The Washington Post – August 5
Share price: $300.99

Jeff Bezos announces intention to buy The Washington Post
Share price: $300.99

August 5
Jeff Bezos announces intention to buy The Washington Post
Source: tk

Bezos says he will pay $250 million of his own money for the financially struggling Washington Post. His plan: To take it private and pump cash into new staff and better online products. The newspaper now says it is profitable. But the partnership hasn't been without headaches: President Donald Trump has claimed the move was an attempt by Bezos to buy influence in Washington, D.C.

Amazon starts delivering packages on Sundays – November 11
Share price: $354.38

Amazon starts delivering packages on Sundays
Share price: $354.38

November 11
Amazon starts delivering packages on Sundays
Source: Getty

Amazon begins delivering packages through the US Postal Service seven days a week in Los Angeles and New York. It will later roll out the service nationwide. Although Amazon's contract with the mail carrier is confidential, the USPS says it makes a profit on the deal.

2014

Amazon unveils its first (and last) smartphone – June 18
Share price: $334.38

Amazon unveils its first (and last) smartphone
Share price: $334.38

June 18
Amazon unveils its first (and last) smartphone
Source: Getty

Amazon enters the smartphone market with its Fire phone, which integrated with Amazon's universe of media streaming options. But the phone flopped, forcing Amazon to take a $170 million writedown and cease production the following year.

Amazon acquires the social video game streaming site Twitch – August 25
Share price: $466.37

Amazon acquires the social video game streaming site Twitch
Share price: $466.37

August 25
Amazon acquires the social video game streaming site Twitch
Source: Twitch

Amazon buys Twitch Interactive, the three-year-old video game streaming company, for $970 million. The deal not only complements the work being done at Amazon's own game production division, but it helps pull the global gaming community towards its cloud platform, Amazon Web Services.

2015

Amazon opens its first physical bookstore – November 2
Share price: $628.35

Amazon opens its first physical bookstore
Share price: $628.35

November 2
Amazon opens its first physical bookstore
Source: Getty

After being blamed for the decline of independent bookstores across the country, Amazon opens its own physical retail location in Seattle. The store's opening is meant to market Amazon's growing list of electronic devices as much as it is to sell books. Amazon now has 15 bookstores in cities across the United States.

The Echo becomes widely available – November 10
Share price: $659.68

The Echo becomes widely available
Share price: $659.68

November 10
The Echo becomes widely available
Source: Getty/CNN

After unveiling its first smart speaker in 2014 to select customers, Amazon puts the Echo in 3,000 stores nationwide just in time for the holiday season. The Echo is the platform for Alexa, Amazon's virtual personal assistant, and therefore the key to a wealth of consumer data and purchasing decisions.

2017

Amazon acquires Whole Foods – June 16
Share price: $987.71

Amazon acquires Whole Foods
Share price: $987.71

June 16
Amazon acquires Whole Foods
Source: Getty

After struggling for years in the intensely competitive grocery delivery business, Amazon ups the ante and purchases Whole Foods' 471 stores for $13.7 billion. It has since started to integrate the two companies' distribution networks and offer discounts to Prime members.

Amazon announces its search for
a second headquarters – September 7
Share price: $979.47

Amazon announces its search for a second headquarters
Share price: $979.47

September 7
Amazon announces its search for a second headquarters
Source: CNN

Pushing the boundaries of its growth in Seattle, Amazon sets off a race between scores of cities across the United States and Canada to host its second headquarters. Bids include lavish tax incentives and real estate for the campus, among other goodies. A decision is expected by the end of 2018.

2018

Amazon reaches a $1 trillion market cap – September 4
Share price: $2,039.51

Amazon reaches a $1 trillion market cap
Share price: $2,039.51

September 4
Amazon reaches a $1 trillion market cap
Source: Getty

Fueled by investor enthusiasm for rising profits, Amazon's stock price rises enough to make the company briefly worth $1 trillion. It's the second company to pass that threshold, after Apple reached it earlier in the year, and analysts quickly started to predict $2 trillion won't be too far off in the future.

Raises minimum wage to $15 an hour – October 2
Share price: $1,971.31

Raises minimum wage to $15 an hour
Share price: $1,971.31

October 2
Raises minimum wage to $15 an hour
Source: Getty

Under pressure from unions and progressives like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Amazon announces it will raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, effective November 1. The change is expected to impact 250,000 of the company's employees, plus 100,000 seasonal workers.

Announces New York and Virginia will be home to HQ2 – November 13
Share price: $1,631.17

Announces New York and Virginia will be home to HQ2
Share price: $1,631.17

November 13
Announces New York and Virginia will be home to HQ2
Photo Illustration: Shutterstock / CNN

More than a year after it first announced its competition for its second headquarters, Amazon finally chooses New York's Long Island City and Virginia's Arlington to split the duties as its HQ2. Both locations will receive a $2.5 billion investment from Amazon, and each will employ more than 25,000 workers over time. In addition, the company announced a new hub in Nashville that will employ 5,000 people. The development projects promise to bring each city a giant infusion of high-paying jobs and tax revenue, but will also impact area infrastructure and property values. Hiring begins in 2019.