How Old Is Google?

By: Tom Harris  | 
A search bar appears over a hand that's touching a tablet
Life without Google is almost unimaginable at this point, but it's a lot younger than some other big names in the tech sphere. Surasak Suwanmake / Getty Images

Google is so ubiquitous in our daily lives that it has seemingly been around forever. But how old is Google? The origins of the company trace back to the 1990s, but in the decades since its launch, Google has become indispensable for internet users.

Google's headquarters is in Mountain View, California, but it might as well be Mount Olympus, given the company's wild success and seemingly unending acquisition spree. The popular search engine, which handles more online requests than other search engines, is just the tip of a rapidly expanding empire. Over the years, Google has introduced a suite of innovative applications and services, ranging from Gmail and Google Apps to AdWords and AdSense.


Read on to learn more about the history of one of the most influential companies.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page Meet

What's astounding is not the level of success the company has achieved but the timeline in which it has done it. IBM history dates back to 1911, Microsoft and Apple to the mid-1970s.

The most popular search engine doesn't have to look back nearly so far: All things Google began in 1995.


That's when Sergey Brin, a 21-year-old student at Stanford University, took University of Michigan graduate Larry Page, just a year older, on a tour of the campus. Legend has it that the two disliked each other and bickered the entire tour. But it must not have been a complete disaster because Page enrolled in Stanford and began working to fulfill the requirements of his Ph.D. program in computer sciences.

There he is, Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, checking out a product launch at eBay headquarters in 2010. See more Googleplex pictures.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Page considered several topics for his doctoral thesis but finally settled on the World Wide Web, which, although growing in the mid-1990s, was still little more than a curiosity. Page decided to focus his attention on the link structure of the web. Was it possible, he wondered, to use links between web pages to rank their relative importance? And if this was indeed possible, could he develop an algorithm — a set of mathematical rules — to count and qualify every backlink on the web?

By 1996, Page was knee-deep in the project, but the complexity of the math proved challenging. He reached out to Brin, the outspoken grad student who first introduced Page to the Stanford campus. Brin began working with Page to further refine and develop the math, so they could rank links pointing to a site according to importance.

They named the resulting algorithm PageRank and then inserted it into BackRub, a search engine they built that started crawling the Web, beginning with Stanford's home page and working outward from there, across the 10 million online pages that existed at the time.


Partners in PageRank: Page, Brin and Stanford

A year after incorporating the algorithm into BackRub, the two students knew they were onto something big. The search results they were getting from BackRub were far superior to results produced by other search engines, in their opinion. Not only that, Page and Brin realized that as the web grew, their results would only get better — because a growing number of internet pages meant more links and greater resolution in determining what was relevant and what wasn't.

They decided to change the name of BackRub to something that better reflected the massive scale of their project. They settled on Google, after "googol," the term used to describe the No. 1 followed by 100 zeros.


Although the Google brand name might be interesting or even innovative, it's the PageRank algorithm that forms the company's foundation. On Jan. 9, 1998, Page and Brin filed for a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Patent No. 6,285,999, "Method for node ranking in a linked database," lists Larry Page as the inventor and the assignee as Stanford University.

What does that mean? It means Stanford actually owns the patent for the page-ranking process — Page and Brin license the use of the PageRank algorithm in their commercial endeavor.

From BackRub to Google to Alphabet, Inc.

Google has had a few names associated with the brand over the years. While the search engine started off as BackRub, it now goes by Google. In 2015, Google, LLC officially became Alphabet, Inc., as part of a restructuring. While the Google name remains in use, it is a part of the parent company.


Getting Technical

In 2001, Google turned over the code to Amit Singhal, who had come to the company from AT&T Labs only a year before. Singhal rewrote the algorithm so that the Google search engine could incorporate additional ranking criteria more easily.

The Google search engine is being tweaked constantly . For example, in 2007, the company introduced universal search — the ability to get links to any medium on the same results page. All told, Google owns hundreds of patents related to the mathematical processes used to generate more effective search results.


Another example is Google Images: Images are now an important part of search engines, but once upon a time, they were not. Google launched Google Images in 2000 after Jennifer Lopez wore a low-cut Versace dress that essentially broke the internet. When the Search team saw that there was no direct way for users to find the picture, it created Google Images.

Expanding Beyond Web Search

Then there's the non-search-engine side of Google — things like Gmail, Google Maps, Google Docs and Google Analytics. These Google services came from a team of engineers. Not all of their ideas pan out, but a few, like Google News, the brainchild of Google Chief Scientist Krishna Bharat, are home runs.

So, when thinking about the invention of Google, it's helpful to consider a two-part answer. The inventor of the Google search engine was Larry Page, with a key assist by Sergey Brin. But the multifaceted, multinational company we know today is the product of a team of brilliant engineers.

Of course, every idea eventually must make it past Page and Brin, the geek gods who have built one of the most successful technology brands — and one of the most compelling mythologies — in the history of business.

The Investor and the Inventor

It takes more than a great idea to start a company — you also need cash and lots of it. Larry Page and Sergey Brin had trouble finding investors when they first started to raise capital to launch their brand-new search engine. Then they had the good fortune of meeting Andy Bechtolsheim, a founder of Sun Microsystems, who wrote a check for $100,000 to "Google, Inc."

With nowhere to deposit the money, Page and Brin incorporated, anxiously waiting two weeks until the seed money could be placed in the bank. The rest, as they say, is internet history.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • Battelle, John. "The Birth of Google." Wired. August 2005. (Jan. 5, 2011)http://www.wired.comwired/archive/13.08/battelle.html?tw=w_tophead_4
  • Google Corporate Website. "Google History." (Jan. 5, 2011)
  • "Google." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. (Jan. 5, 2011)
  • Ignatius, Adi. "In Search Of The Real Google." Time. Feb. 12, 2006. (Jan. 5, 2011),9171,1158961-1,00.html
  • Levy, Steven. "How Google's Algorithm Rules the Web." Wired. March 2010. (Jan. 5, 2011)
  • Malseed, Mark. "The Story of Sergey Brin." Moment Magazine. February 2007. (Jan. 5, 2011)
  • Sheff, David. "Google Guys." Playboy Interview. September 2004.
  • Wilson, Mark. "Top 10 Web-shaking Google Breakthroughs from Its First 10 Years." Popular Mechanics. Sept. 9, 2008. (Jan. 5, 2011)