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Technology > Google

19 Crazy Facts You Probably Didn't Know About Google

A treasure trove of curious tidbits torn from the pages of Backrub's -- oops, we mean Google's -- company history.
19 Crazy Facts You Probably Didn't Know About Google
Image credit: brionv | Flickr

Google wasn’t always the world’s second most valuable brand. Long before it was a go-to verb, it was an obedient digital dog, merely finding and retrieving stuff, playing fetch for internet users over and over again.

Eventually the little G -- which started in 1995 as a Stanford University Ph.D. research project -- grew into the big, $367 billion-dollar G we know and love-hate today. No longer satisfied to fetch links alone, the global tech colossus now chases meatier, more meaningful bones, like nailing the fastest internet speeds on the planet, rendering human drivers obsolete and, NBD, ending death.

Related: Larry Page and Sergey Brin

The Mountain View, Calif., mammoth’s meteoric rise to the top is chock full of juicy trivia tidbits and mind-blowing milestones along the way.

Here are 19 surprising facts about Google:

1. Sergey Brin and Larry (Lawrence) Page met by chance.

Page, 22 at the time, having recently earned a computer engineering degree from the University of Michigan, considers attending Stanford University for his Ph.D. Brin, then 21, already a Ph.D. candidate at the prestigious institution, is assigned to show Page around campus. That was back in 1995 and, as fate would have it, quite the momentous meeting of the minds.

2. Google was originally named BackRub.

In 1996, Page and Brin collaborated on a pioneering “web crawler” concept curiously called BackRub. Some speculate that the early search engine’s nomenclature was a nod to retrieving backlinks. BackRub, which linked to Brin’s and Page’s '90s-tastic original homepages, lived on Stanford’s servers for more than a year, but eventually chewed up too much bandwidth.

Related: Google CEO: This Is Why Dominant Tech Companies Falter

3. Google is a play on the word “googol.”

On Sept. 15, 1997, over the BackRub title, Page and Brin registered the domain name of their mushrooming project as Google, a twist on “googol,” a mathematical term represented by the numeral one followed by 100 zeros. The name hinted at the seemingly infinite amount of data the brainy pair code their fledgling search engine to mine, make sense of and deliver. Many wondered if Google is a misspelling of Googol.  

4. Google’s first doodle was a Burning Man stick figure.

The inaugural doodle was an out-of-the-office message that Page and Brin created in August of 1998 to let people know they’d shipped off to the Burning Man festival. The future billionaires positioned the iconic Man behind the second “o” in Google’s logo. Dude, check it out here.

Related: Lessons From Burning Man on How to Unlock Creativity and Think Big

5. Google’s first office was a rented garage.

So stereotypical Silicon Valley startup, right? Starting in September 1998, the company’s first workspace was Susan Wojcicki’s garage on Santa Margarita Ave. in Menlo Park, Calif. Wojcicki, sister of 23andMe founder Anne Wojcicki, is Google employee number 16. She was Google’s first marketing manager and is now the CEO of YouTube. As for the house that built Google, the tech titan bought it, because of course it did. Then it filled the suburban ranch-style dwelling with candy, snacks and lava lamps.

6. A former caterer for The Grateful Dead was Google’s first chef.

In 1999, chef Charlie Ayers won a cook-off judged by Google’s employees, then only 40 in all, to clinch the position, which he held for seven years. Ayers initially cooked for the Grateful Dead in exchange for free admission to their legendary shows, but later took over catering for the jam band. At Google, he eventually served 4,000 daily lunches and dinners in 10 cafés throughout its Mountain View, Calif., global headquarters.

Related: Sergey Brin's Best Advice to Marissa Mayer

7. Google New York began at a Starbucks on 86th Street.

In 2000, Google unofficially kicked off its New York arm at a Starbucks in New York City. It was helmed by a one-person sales “team.” Now, thousands of “NYooglers” clock-in at its swanky, 2.9 million-square-foot New York office, a former Port Authority building on 111 8th Ave.

8. Swedish Chef is a language preference in Google search.

Gurndy morn-dee burn-dee, who knew? Yes, it’s true. In 2001, Google got in touch with its inner yodelling Muppet and opened the gates for search queries and results in Swedish Chef lingo (called Bork Bork Bork, to be technical). Other “joke” languages you can tickle Google’s algorithm with include: Elmer Fudd, Pirate, Klingon, Pig Latin and, of course, Hacker (a.k.a. 1337sp34k).

Related: Get Ready for 'Buy' Buttons in Google Search Results

9. Gmail was launched on April Fool’s Day, no joke.

Toying with Silicon Valley’s longstanding tradition of pulling April Fool’s Day pranks, Google unveiled Gmail on April 1, 2004, in a wackily-worded announcement that was widely misconstrued as a hoax. It wasn’t Google Gulp. It was a brilliant double fake and the precursor to a Google staple that now serves millions of users across the world every day.  

10. Googlers ride colorful “gBikes” around the Googleplex.

Launched in 2007, Google’s Googleplex campus commuter bike program began as a modest fleet of bright blue Huffys. Then came the goofy “clown bikes.” Now Googlers ride more than 1,000 primary-colored, basket-equipped beach cruisers, dubbed “gBikes,” around the two-mile expanse that is Google Mountain View. Interestingly, none of the bikes have locks. Employees simply “borrow” the nearest set of wheels. When they’re done, they drop them off conveniently close to office entryways for other Googlers to use.

11. Google negotiated its acquisition of YouTube’s at Denny’s over mozzarella sticks.

“We didn’t want to meet at offices,” YouTube co-founder Steven Chen said, “so we were like, ‘Where’s a place that none of us would go?’” That place turned out to be a Denny’s in Palo Alto, Calif. Mozzarella sticks were nibbled, hands were shaken. The 2006 landmark acquisition was a Grand Slam for Chen and co-founders Jawed Karim and Chad Hurley. Not bad for the time. Google doled out $1.65 billion for what would explode into the Internet’s most-watched -- and most uploaded-to -- video platform.

Related: Young, Fearless and Fed Up

12. Its leaders are in it for the long haul.

In 2008, Eric Schmidt, then the CEO of Google and currently the executive chairman of Alphabet, told Fortune before the company went public in 2004, that the trio of Schmidt and co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin agreed to work together for 20 years.

13. The early days of Google were not super glamorous.

Schmidt told LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman during an interview for Hoffman’s Masters of Scale podcast that the former CEO's first office at the company was an  8-by-12-foot space that he shared with the company’s then VP of engineering, Amit Singhal.

14. The company helped fight fictional vampires.

The first instance of Google being used as a verb -- “to Google” something -- on television occurred during an Oct. 15, 2002, episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

15. Google has had a pet-friendly office since the beginning.

One of the company’s earliest employees was a friendly Leonberger named Yoshka, who came to work with his owner, Google’s senior vice president of operations Urs Hoelzle.

16. It speaks many languages.

In 2000, French, German, Italian, Swedish, Finnish, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Norwegian and Danish were the first 10 language versions of the site to be available to the public.

Related: New Free Work Tools From Google Help You Think Like the Leader of a Billion-Dollar Company

17. Google image search launched in a big way.

The company rolled out Google Image search in 2001 with a whopping 250 million images for users to peruse. Not bad for day one.

18. When it went public, Google was valued as much as General Motors.

The company sold 19,605,052 shares of stock for $85 per share. It was valued at $27 billion.

19. Google gave Mountain View the gift of free Wi-Fi.

In 2006, the company decided to provide Mountain View, the California town where its main headquarters is located, with free city-wide Wi-Fi. While certainly generous, it likely just meant that even more people were free to jump on the web and use the search engine.

Related video: What It's Like to Be an Intrapreneur at a Large Corporation