The very first item sold on eBay was a broken laser pointer for $14.83. Astonished, Omidyar contacted the winning bidder to ask if he understood that the laser pointer was broken. In his responding email, the buyer explained: “I’m a collector of broken laser pointers.”The frequently-repeated story that eBay was founded to help Omidyar’s fiancйe trade PEZ Candy dispensers was fabricated by a public relations manager in 1997 to interest the media. This was revealed in Adam Cohen’s 2002 book, The Perfect Store, and confirmed by eBay.
Chris Agarpao was hired as eBay’s first employee and Jeffrey Skoll was hired as the first president of the company in early 1996. In November 1996, eBay entered into its first third-party licensing deal, with a company called Electronic Travel Auction to use SmartMarket Technology to sell plane tickets and other travel products. The company officially changed the name of its service from AuctionWeb to eBay in September 1997. Originally, the site belonged to Echo Bay Technology Group, Omidyar’s consulting firm. Omidyar had tried to register the domain name echobay.com (the domain has recently been put up for sale) but found it already taken by the Echo Bay Mines, a gold mining company, so he shortened it to his second choice, eBay.com.
eBay went public on September 21, 1998, and both Omidyar and Skoll became instant billionaires. The company purchased PayPal on October 14, 2002.
Auction-style listings allow the seller to offer one or more items for sale for a specified number of days. The seller can establish a reserve price.
Fixed Price format allows the seller to offer one or more items for sale at a Buy It Now price. Buyers who agree to pay that price win the auction immediately without submitting a bid.
Dutch Auctions allow the seller to offer two or more identical items in the same auction. Bidders can bid for any number from one item up to the total number offered.
In its earliest days, eBay was essentially unregulated. However, as the site grew, it became necessary to restrict or forbid auctions for various items. Note that some of the restrictions relate to eBay.com (the US site), while other restrictions apply to specific European sites (such as Nazi paraphernalia). Regional laws and regulations may apply to the seller or the buyer. Among the hundred or so banned or restricted categories:
Tobacco (tobacco-related items and collectibles are accepted.)
Alcohol (alcohol-related collectibles, including sealed containers, as well as some wine sales by licensed sellers are allowed).
Drugs and drug paraphernalia.
Firearms and ammunition, including any parts that could be used to assemble a firearm as well as (as of July 30, 2007) any firearm part that is required for the firing of a gun, including bullet tips, brass casings and shells, barrels, slides, cylinders, magazines, firing pins, trigger assemblies, etc. Crossbows and various types of knives are also forbidden.
Used underwear (see Panty fetishism) and dirty used clothing.
Teachers’ editions of textbooks including homeschool teacher’s editions.
Human parts and remains (with an exception for skeletons and skulls for scientific study, provided they are not Native American in origin).
Live animals (with certain exceptions).
Certain copyrighted works or trademarked items.
Lock-picking tools, accessories, and practice locks fall into the category of burglar tools.
Lottery tickets, sweepstakes tickets, or any other gambling items.
Military hardware such as working weapons or explosives.
Virtual items from massively multiplayer online games, restrictions which vary by country.
Many other items are either wholly prohibited or restricted in some manner.
Non-physical items no longer can be sold through eBay. They can only be advertised through classified ads on eBay and do not get feedback.
In February 2004, a scrapped F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet was listed on eBay by Mike Landa, of Landa and Associates, with a starting bid of $1,000,000. He was the legal owner of the plane after purchasing it from a scrap yard and also offered to have the plane restored for flying condition for a Buy It Now price of $9,000,000. Landa also told potential buyers 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 that he can only sell the plane to an American citizen residing in the United States and that the plane must not leave US airspace. The auction ended without a sale because nobody could come up with the money.
In January 2006, a British man named Leigh Knight, sold an unwanted Brussels sprout left over from his Christmas dinner for Ј1550 in aid of cancer research.
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. It is not known whether the Chinese government will allow the plane to be delivered.
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.
In May 2005, a Volkswagen Golf that had previously been registered to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who had been made Pope Benedict XVI) was sold on eBay’s German site for ¬ 188,938.88 ($277,171.12 USD). The winning bid was made by the GoldenPalace.com online casino, known for their outrageous eBay purchases.
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.
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.
A Coventry University student got Ј1.20 for a single cornflake.
A man from Brisbane, Australia, attempted to sell New Zealand at a starting price of $.01AUD. The price had risen to $3,000 before eBay closed the auction.
An Australian newspaper reported in December 2004 that a single piece of the Kellogg’s breakfast cereal Nutri-Grain sold on eBay for AUD$1,035 because it happened to bear a slight resemblance to the character E.T. from the Steven Spielberg movie. Apparently the seller went on to make even more money in relation to the sale for his appearance on a nationally televised current affairs program.
One of the tunnel boring machines involved in the construction of the Channel Tunnel was auctioned on eBay in 2004.
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 AU$1,300
Disney sold a retired Monorail Red (Mark IV Monorail) for $20,000.
The German Language Association sold the German language to call attention for the growing influence of Pidgin-English in modern German.
In late November 2005, the original Hollywood Sign was sold on eBay for $450,400.
In January 2007, a cooked but uneaten Brussel Sprout was sold on eBay, finishing at over Ј15,000 ($29,000).
In February 2007, after Britney Spears shaved all of her hair off in a Los Angeles salon, it was listed on eBay for $1million USD before it was taken down.
Bridgeville, California (pop. 25) was the first town to be sold on eBay in 2002, and has been up for sale 3 times since.
Boston Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramнrez attempted to sell his neighbor’s JENN-AIR Gas Grill on eBay. The auction started at $3,000 and the price escalated to an astounding $99,999,999, the maximum amount allowed by eBay. The auction was later closed by eBay because of the promise of an autographed baseball going to the winner as well as the grill; it is a violation of eBay policy to include items other than those advertised.
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”.
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 January 2008, four golf balls were auctioned on eBay after being surgically removed from the carpet python which had inadvertently swallowed them whilst raiding eggs in a chicken enclosure. The story attracted considerable international attention and the balls eventually sold for more AUD$1,400. The python recovered and was released.
In May 2008, Paul Osborn of UK puts his wife Sharon for sale in eBay alleging that she had an affair with a coworker.
In June 2008, Ian Usher put up his “entire life” on auction. The auction includes his house in Perth, belongings, introduction to his friends and a trial at his job. When bidding closed, his “life” sold for $384,000.