Do you think you need a corporate office to start a business? Think again. Some of the largest and most successful companies around started in the unlikeliest of places: someone’s garage. These humble beginnings teach us that most amazing ideas have no boundaries. From small, rented garages to multi billion-dollar companies, anyone who’s passionate about an idea can start and develop that idea anywhere, as long as they have a little privacy and room to shut out the rest of the world.
The Walt Disney Company
The Walt Disney Company is the highest grossing media conglomerate in the world worth over $190 billion, but its first film studio was at Walt Disney’s uncle’s one-car garage. It all began in the summer of 1923. At the time, the company was called The Disney Brothers Studio and was based about 45 minutes away from today’s Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California. In that small space the team filmed The Alice Comedies, which would later inspire Disney’s version of Alice in Wonderland.
A few months later, Walt Disney along with his brother Ray, moved to a bigger lot down the street from their uncle’s home, which is where Disney signed a deal with Universal Studios to distribute The Alice Comedies. And the rest is animation history.
Look around the room and you’re almost guaranteed to see an Apple product, whether it’s an iPhone, iPad, or even an Apple Watch. It seems crazy to think that Steve Jobs’ global technology juggernaut got its start in the garage of his home.
In 1975, the team of Steve Jobs and friend Steve Wozniak put together the initial ideas for the company and began assembling what would become Apple 1.
The company eventually grew and achieved wide success, becoming one of the world leaders in technology and helping change the idea of what we use mobile phones for. And it all started in the comfort of his garage.
As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. Sometimes when you have a big idea the only space available for you to expand it is a garage. This was not a deterrent to Bill Gates and Paul Allen, who hunkered down and founded Microsoft in a garage in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
They might not have had much in the way of office space, but they did have a great deal of determination, grit, and talent, all of which helped propel the company to the forefront of technological innovation for the greater part of four decades.
Perhaps their origin story resonated especially deeply, as they founded Microsoft Garage many years later as a project for engineers to explore their own new ideas for technology.
Mattel, whose most famous product is the Barbie doll, was founded by Harold “Matt” Matson and Ruth and Elliot Handler in 1945. Before the company became THE American toy manufacturing company, the business partners were making picture frames out of a Southern California garage. Elliot started making dollhouse furniture from the leftover materials of the picture frames. Ruth, who worked at Paramount Pictures, is said to have landed her husband’s first order by bringing a suitcase full of the doll house furniture to a store on Wilshire Boulevard, not far from her job.
The success of the dollhouse furniture pushed Elliot and Ruth (Mason had left the company due to poor health) to focus solely on toy manufacturing. And in 1959 Ruth invented the Barbie doll, named after her daughter, Barbara.
Today, Mattel is the largest toy making company in the world.
It’s hard to imagine that a company like Amazon could have operated out of a garage in its initial beginnings.
Today, Amazon is known for being the Internet’s leading online retailer and generally being the go-to place to buy anything (and everything) online. The company now offers shipping to the majority of the world and has multiple websites in different languages. All of this started in a garage.
The initial concept for Amazon was an online bookstore, started by Jeff Bezos in the summer of 1994 after quitting his job at a New York investment bank when discovering the potential of the internet.
Relocating to Bellevue, Washington, he started the online bookstore in his home garage. This space provided him with the room he needed to facilitate storing, packaging, and shipping books to customers.
Although it took almost an entire year for Amazon to sell their first book, the business soon started to grow exponentially and now is one of the biggest corporations in the world.
William S. Harley’s talent came to light in 1901, when at the age of 20 he drew up plans to build a small engine to power a bicycle. Over the next two years, Harley worked in cooperation with his childhood friend, Arthur Davidson. Together, in a wooden shed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, they built their first motorcycle. Later, came success when their construction proved to be highly popular. Nowadays, Harley Davidson is synonymous with quality and luxury in the motorcycle industry.
Perhaps one of the most famous and well-recorded tales of garage-to-glory fame is in the origin story of google. In 1998, two Stanford students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, rented a garage in Menlo Park, California, from Susan Wojcicki. Wojcicki was a recent business school graduate and rented out her garage to Page and Brin for $1,700 a month in order to make her mortgage payments.
This would be the base of operations for Google for the next five months as they developed their algorithms and began indexing websites across the internet. Luckily for Google they had outgrown the garage within a year and when they moved they brought Susan along. Though she started as their landlord she eventually became the Vice President of product management.
Page and Brin tried to sell Google to Excite for $1 million. Excite rejected the offer, and now Google is the most trafficked site in the world. Today, the garage on Santa Margarita Avenue is owned by Google as a tribute to their modest roots.
In 1984, most computers were mailed in separate parts, with consumers expected to assemble them themselves. Michael Dell wanted to sell custom-built computers designed for individuals and companies specific needs.
Dell founded Dell Computer Corporation in 1984 (operating under the name PC’s Limited) and began constructing computers from his off-campus dorm housing while still attending the University of Texas at Austin. In fact, he became confident enough in this start-up business that he dropped out of school to focus full-time on the venture. At this point he was running the company out of his garage, building personal computers which started to sell in 1985.
The famous, “Dude, you’re getting a Dell” commercial followed, and the rest is history.
In the 1950s, a poor Croatian immigrant speaking poor English came to America. He invested $125 in a lathe and rented a tiny garage in working-class South El Monte, California, to do contract machinery work and create the individual components for flashlights to deliver to manufacturers. A few years later he was convinced he could build a more durable flashlight than anything on the market. And guess what? He did! Word of his invention spread quickly and was almost immediately picked up by the military and other industries.
In 1979, Maglica designed the Maglite flashlight specifically for the police force. Nowadays, Maglite is the standard issue flashlight for all police officers in the US.
After bonding on a camping trip, Bill Hewlett and David Packard (both Stanford graduates) began renting a garage in Palo Alto and working there part time building a variety of electrical devices. This was in 1939 with an initial investment of only $538. Now known for their manufacturing of personal computers, software, and computing accessories, their roots lie in niche technological innovation of all sorts. These included agricultural products, high-tech audio engineering equipment, and other test equipment.
Their first product, the resistance-capacitance audio oscillator (used to test sound equipment) was sold to Walt Disney Productions to use for certifying the surround sound systems installed in theaters for their motion picture Fantasia”
When naming the company, the two flipped a coin to decide whose name should be first
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 later went public. Today the company is worth about $29 billion and the garage is a private museum known as the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley.”
Now for something that involves a little less technology. Yankee Candle Company has become the household name for all things candle related. Their brand is instantly recognizable and with hundreds of different scents to choose from, you’re likely to find at least one you like.
As a high school student, Michael Kitleridge wanted to create a one of a kind Christmas present for his mother. Using a collection of household items (most notably a red crayon for color), he created a scented candle he hoped his mother would be happy to receive. Before he could present her with it, however, a neighboring woman saw Kitteridge’s creation, and was so impressed she convinced him to sell it to her. The money she gave him was enough for Michael to buy enough material to create two additional candles, one for his mother and another to sell. He operated out of his garage that Christmas season and within five years opened a store near the college campus of Mount Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Today, Yankee Candle is one of the largest candle companies in the world. Not bad for a teenager.
Lotus Cars Limited, a British automotive company, manufactures sports cars and racing cars noted for their light weight and fine handling characteristics.
The company was formed in 1952 as Lotus Engineering Ltd. by Colin Chapman and Colin Dare, both graduates of University College, London. The company traces its origins back to 1948 when Chapman, just 20 years old, built his first racing car in a garage.
Today Lotus Cars is one of the premier sports car manufacturers in the world.
Medtronic produces medical devices meant to aid in therapy. Some of these devices include stent grafts, pacemakers, neurostimulators, heart monitors, and catheters.
In 1949, Carl Bakken, a graduate student in electrical engineering, and his brother-in-law Palmer Hermundslie, an enterprising engineer, started a repair business focused on medical electronics. The pair was driven by passion, entrepreneurial skills, and a desire to help others. As the work increased, they added a handful of employees who called themselves “the garage gang,” a reference to their spartan office in two boxcars used as a garage at the Hermundslie family’s Minneapolis home.
The company eventually expanded throughout the Midwest and continued to grow to the global company it is today.
Wilbur Curtis Company
The eponymous William Curtis always had big ideas. Living in Los Angeles in the 1940s he decided to improve the average cup of coffee by altering the way the drink is made. Hence, working from his garage, his specialty coffee equipment was born.
Today, the Curtis name is synonymous with a full line of the world’s most advanced, top of the line, commercial coffee brewing equipment, iced tea brewing systems, and specialty beverage dispensers.
The garage doesn’t turn dreams into reality. But the solitude and homey feeling of a garage may have been just what these entrepreneurs needed to give them a little extra push in the right direction
If you’re looking for a perfect office or workshop space where your next big idea can strike, the garage can be just the start you need. It’s often one of the most overlooked parts of your home, but it can help you achieve great things.
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