On This Day: What was the first ever item sold on eBay?

On this day 26 years ago, online shopping changed forever when a new brand sprung onto the scene.

On September 3, 1995, Pierre Omidyar founded a site called AuctionWeb - the first online auction site allowing person-to-person transactions.

He described AuctionWeb as a “dedicated [space] bringing together buyers and sellers in an honest and open marketplace.”

After battling a PR scandal falsely alleging that AuctionWeb was created so his wife could collect Pez dispensers, Mr Omidyar made his first sale and business boomed.

Many milestones and a name change later, we now know AuctionWeb as eBay.

Pierre Omidyar founded AuctionWeb. Source: eBay
Pierre Omidyar founded AuctionWeb after writing code on his computer. Source: eBay

Bidding for success

Mr Omidyar made his first online sale to a Canadian man named Mark Fraser. The item was a broken laser pointer for which Mr. Fraser bid $14.83.

When Mr Omidyar reached out to Mr Fraser to ensure he understood the product was broken, Mr Fraser reportedly said “yes, I collect broken laser pointers.”

It was later revealed that Mr Fraser thought laser pointers were too expensive, and wanted to purchase and repair a broken one to avoid paying full price.

This first sale drew attention to the fact that there was a market to sell used goods in the digital environment. The public seemed to agree, and business boomed.

Blue Laser pointer. Source: Getty Images
Mr Fraser still owns the laser pointer today. Source: Getty Images

Digital milestones

By mid-1996, just nine months after the business began, the total value of merchandise sold on AuctionWeb reached $7.2 million.

By the next year, Beanie Babies fever took the world by storm and $500 million worth were sold on AuctionWeb alone.


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In 1997 the feedback function was introduced, allowing members to rate transactions; and, the one millionth sale was made - it was a Sesame Street jack in the box.

And, in 1997, perhaps the most notable milestone took place - AuctionWeb rebranded as eBay.

Onwards and upwards

After rebranding as eBay, the site completely took off, launching internationally in Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom.

By 2000, the "buy it now" button was released, and in 2001 the oldest pair of Levi’s sold on eBay for more than $46,000, making fashion history.

In 2001, a Gulfstream jet also sold on eBay for a whopping $4.9 million, setting a new price record for eBay.

In 2002, eBay acquired PayPal, and continued its astonishing growth.

Ebay sign atop a building. Source: Reuters
AuctionWeb was founded in San Jose California. Source: Reuters

Flashing forward to today, eBay is available in over 180 countries, with 183 million buyers worldwide.

Over 1.6 billion listings are currently live on the site, and with the exception of dangerous or hazardous goods, almost anything is permitted to be listed for sale.

Now a global commerce leader, eBay’s humble beginnings as AuctionWeb go to show how a bright idea can change the world.