This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

Ever Hear of “ActionWeb”?


September 3, 1995: eBay Founded

The online auction site, eBay, is launched as “AuctionWeb” by Pierre Omidyar. The first item sold, a broken laser pointer, wasn’t actually intended to sell, but rather to test the new site, itself started as a hobby. Surprised that the item sold for $14.83, Omidyar contacted the buyer to make sure he knew the laser pointer was broken, to which was replied, ”I’m a collector of broken laser pointers.” From that first $14.83, Omidyar is now worth billions of dollars.

Pierre Omidyar

Pierre Omidyar

Broken Laser

Broken Laser












Makes me wonder how much that laser pointer would be worth if it went back up on the auction block.

Some of the more unusual things sold (or listed) on eBay

Buildings and land

  • In late November 2005, the      original Hollywood Sign was sold on eBay for $450,400.


  • Bridgeville, California (pop. 25)      was the first town to be sold on eBay
  • In January 2003, Thatch Cay,      the last privately held and undeveloped U.S. Virgin Island, was listed for      auction. The minimum bid was $3 million.
  • Carlotta, California was up for      auction February 2003.
  • In September 2004, the Indiana      Firebirds arena football team was auctioned off.


  • A man from Brisbane, Australia,      attempted to sell New Zealand at a starting price of $0.01.      The price had risen to $3,000 before eBay closed the auction.
  • In October      2008, amidst the 2008–2012 Icelandic financial crisis, one seller      put up Iceland for sale. The auction started with a bid of 99 pence      and reached 10 million pounds (US $17.28 million). The notice read:      Located in the mid-Atlantic ridge in the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland      will provide the winning bidder with — a habitable environment, Icelandic      Horses and admittedly a somewhat sketchy financial situation.


  • In June 2005, the wife of Tim Shaw, a British radio DJ on Kerrang! 105.2, sold Tim’s Lotus Esprit sports car with a Buy It Now price of 50 pence after she heard him flirting with model Jodie Marsh on air. The car was sold within 5 minutes, and it was requested that the buyer pick it up the same day.
Shaw and his Lotus

Shaw and his Lotus

  • In May 2005, a Volkswagen Golf      that had previously been registered to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger      (before he was elected Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005) was sold on      eBay’s German site for €188,938.88 ($277,171.12 USD). The winning bid was      made by the online casino, known for their      outrageous eBay purchases.


Military vehicles

  • In February 2004, a scrapped F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet was listed on eBay with a starting bid of $1 million. The seller offered to have it restored to flying condition for a Buy It Now price of $9 million. Potential buyers were told that maintenance of the plane would cost roughly $40,000 a month for just 2 to 3 hours of flying time. The FBI told Landa (seller) that he could only sell the plane to an American citizen residing in the United States, and that the plane must not leave U.S. airspace. The auction ended without a sale.


  • A seaworthy 16,000-ton aircraft carrier, formerly the British HMS Vengeance, was listed early in 2004. The auction was removed when eBay determined that the vessel qualified as ordnance, even though all weapons systems had been removed.
HMS Vengeance

HMS Vengeance

  • In May 2006, a Chinese businessman named Zhang Cheng bought a former Czech Air Force MiG-21 fighter jet from a seller in the United States for $24,730. The seller, “inkgirle”, refused to ship it. It is unclear whether he was scammed.


New species

  • In 2004, a listing for a sea urchin turned out to be a new species, later given the name Coelopleurus exquisitus.


  • In August 2008, Dr Richard Harrington, Vice President of the UK Royal Entomological Society, announced that a fossilized aphid he bought for £20 from a seller in Lithuania was a previously unknown species. It has been named Mindarus harringtoni after Dr Harrington. He had wanted to name it Mindarus  ebayi, but this name was disallowed as being too flippant. The 45-million-year-old aphid, preserved in a piece of Baltic amber, is now housed in the Natural History Museum in London.


Food and drink

  • Water that was said to have been left in a cup Elvis Presley once drank from was sold for $455. The few tablespoons came from a plastic cup Presley sipped at a concert in North Carolina in 1977.


  • Coventry University student Bill Bennett sold a single cornflake for £1.20.
  • An Australian newspaper reported in December 2004 that a single piece of the Kellogg’s breakfast cereal Nutri-Grain sold on eBay for A$1,035 because it happened to bear a slight resemblance to the character E.T. from the Steven Spielberg movie.


  • In 2004, a partially eaten, 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich said to bear the image of the Virgin Mary sold on eBay for $28,000.


  • In December 2005, a brussels sprout cooked on Christmas Day was listed by “crazypavingpreacher” (Andrew Henderson of Darlington, England). It sold for £99.50 on January 4, 2006.
  • In January 2006, a British man sold an unwanted brussels sprout left over from his Christmas dinner for £1550 in aid of cancer research.
  • In November 2012, in light of Twinkie production ceasing, Twinkies began to be listed at phenomenally high prices, including a box going for $10 million, claiming that $1 million would be donated to a cause of the buyer’s choice and the Twinkies will be delivered in a van to the address displaying a company logo also of the buyer’s choice.


  • In April 2005, American entrepreneur Matt Rouse sold the right to choose a new middle name for him. After receiving an $8,000 “Buy It Now” bid, the Utah courts refused to allow the name change. He currently still has his original middle name “Jean”.
  • A group of four men from Australia auctioned themselves to spend the weekend with the promise of “beers,      snacks, good conversation and a hell of a lot of laughs” for AUD$1,300.
  • In February 2007, after Britney Spears shaved all of her hair off in a Los Angeles salon, it was listed on eBay for US$1M before the listing was taken down.
  • In May 2008, Paul Osborn of the UK listed his wife Sharon for sale on eBay, alleging that she had an affair with a coworker.
  • In June 2008, Ian Usher put up his “entire life” on auction. The auction included his house in Perth, belongings, introduction to his friends, and a trial at his job. When bidding closed, his “life” sold for $384,000.
Ian Usher

Ian Usher

  • In August 2009, a mother of six from South Arkansas auctioned off the legal rights to name her unborn child.


  • One of the tunnel boring machines involved in the construction of the Channel Tunnel was auctioned on eBay in 2004.
  • The German Language Association sold the German language to call attention to the growing influence of English in modern Germany.
  • In January 2008, four golf balls were auctioned on eBay after being surgically removed from the carpet python that had inadvertently swallowed them whilst raiding eggs in a chicken enclosure. The story attracted considerable international attention and the balls eventually sold for more than A$1,400.
  • In November 2008, a Swedish man put a digitally hand-drawn picture of a 7-legged spider onto eBay. The      picture stemmed from an article on the site wherein David Thorne claims to have attempted to pay a chiropractor’s bill with a picture of a 7-legged spider, which he valued at $233.95. On eBay, the bidding price started at $233.95, with bidding ended at a sale price of US$10,000. Both the e-mail exchange and the picture have become internet hits.
  • In July 2009, Dornoch Capital Advisors placed England’s Coca Cola League One Side Tranmere Rovers F.C. on eBay without permission from owner and chairman Peter Johnson.
  • In December 2009, a woman auctioned the copyright for a never before seen four-minute home movie      of Marilyn Monroe smoking a joint. Many say it was just a cigarette.


A Gulfstream II Jet that sold for $4.9 million in 2001 is the all-time highest, of eBay record sale price until date.



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