Famous Companies That Started in a Garage (Info & History)

There is a saying out there that garages are the cradle of America’s success. This is quite true. If you think about it, many of the best inventions America has for the world actually come from a humble garage. 

In fact, many of the world’s biggest corporations actually started off in the garages. What are the famous companies that started in a garage?

The biggest companies that started in a garage include:

  • Google
  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Microsoft
  • Disney
  • Mattel
  • Harley Davidson
  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Dell
  • Nike
  • Lotus Cars
  • Maglite

In this article, let us look at these companies and what their humble beginnings in a garage look like. We will also answer some questions about starting a business in a garage too.

What Is A Startup Company?

A startup company is a new business focused on bringing an innovative product or service to the market. Startups usually have high growth potential and may attract many investors.

Startups usually are small companies with one or more visionary founders. Together, they propose an innovation to solve a particular problem. Often, they will do this by developing a product or service. 

They then take their idea to investors, who will listen to their pitches. If the investors like it, they may invest and fund the business in exchange for some shareholding. 

The founding team then gets to work. They usually work in co-working spaces and, often, garages. They may either work independently or receive help from their investors. 

Startups often operate in the technology, biotech, finance, or food science sectors. These are sections that require a lot of innovation, which suits startups. 

Startups also often aim to innovate and then disrupt the existing market. They do this by offering a better solution. For example, Uber disrupted the transportation industry by offering ride-sharing systems.

Startups are also recognized for their high growth potential. They are also able to scale very quickly to meet market demand. Startups are also very agile and flexible. They can change their strategy and operations based on market feedback.

However, startups are also a very risky undertaking. This is because they are not expected to be profitable for a long time. When market conditions change, startups that fail to adapt and pivot may fail. 

Famous Companies That Started In A Garage


Google started as simply another college student project at Stanford. Larry Page and Sergey Brin are college students who met at Stanford in the mid-1990s. They decided to start a company together. 

Two years later, they started Google in Susan Wojcicki’s 2,000-foot garage. They rented the space for $1,700 monthly in September 1998. The location? 32 Santa Margarita Avenue, Menlo Park, California.

Within a year, the Google team would outgrow the garage space. They then move to an office in Palo Alto along with their eight employees.

Page and Brin actually tried to sell the company to Yahoo for $1 million in 1998 and Excite for $1 million in 1999. Both offers were rejected. In fact, Page and Brin lowered their asking price to only $750,000 to Excite. That was also rejected. 

However, this is a good thing since they continued to work on Google. Google has since become a massive tech company, an internet behemoth today. 

Excite and Yahoo? They are still around but barely relevant to the internet space today. 


The world’s greatest online marketplace started as an online bookstore. It was founded by Jeff Bezos in 1995. 

He started Amazon four years after being the youngest vice president of a Wall Street firm. Bezos quit his job, then moved to Seattle to pursue his vision. 

He believed that he could bring online retailing into the book industry. Amazon began operating from Bezos’ home garage in Bellevue, Washington.

It took Bezos an entire year to sell his first book. However, Amazon would eventually grow big and went public in 1997.

From the beginning, he knew Amazon would eventually sell other online products. In 1998, Amazon began to sell computer games and music records on its online store. It also began to expand globally. 

Today, Amazon is one of the world’s largest online stores, making Bezos one of the richest men in the world. Amazon is also a world leader in e-commerce innovation and also owns related companies such as Whole Foods. 


In 1976, Steve Wozniak created a computer. This is a primitive device that needs you to connect it to a TV to work.

He later founded Apple Computer together with the late Steve Jobs and Ronald Wayne. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were only 21 and 26 years old at that time. 

One of their first big orders was from a local retailer, the Byte Shop. They ordered 50 computers (Apple 1) at $500 apiece, which they could produce in 30 days with help.

Later, Mark Markkula came in with the funds and invested in the company. They then spend months working on the next product. In 1977, Apple II was launched and made Apple a household name in personal computing. 

Many Apple computer models came along from the 1984 Macintosh. In 2001 iPod came out, and iPhone in 2007. Apple is now one of the world’s most valuable companies. It also continues to lead the world in consumer technology.

Today, the Silicon Valley home where Jobs grew up is listed as one of the city’s historic properties.


In 1975, Bill Gates and his friend Paul Allen founded Microsoft. Their first office is in a small garage space in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They then moved to the Sundowner Motor Hotel. 

The reason? The hotel was conveniently located across the street from a personal computer company. 

When they started Microsoft, they had a small garage and minimal resources. However, they spend their time programming and building their first operating system. They licensed it out for $80,000. 

A few years later, Windows was born, and we know how that turned out. Microsoft has been ruling the PC market for decades and is today’s most valuable technology company. Microsoft also entered markets such as cloud storage and gaming. 

This makes Bill Gates one of the richest person on the planet in the process.


Disney started in the summer of 1923 in a one-car garage that belonged to Walt Disney’s uncle, Robert Disney. 

The Disney Garage moved to the Stanley Ranch Museum in the 1980s.

At the time, the company was called The Disney Brothers Studio. It was 45 minutes from today’s Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California.

In this small space, the team filmed the Alice Comedies. This show would later inspire Disney’s version of Alice in Wonderland.

Today Disney is one of the highest-earning corporations in the world. It owns and operates cable television networks, publishing, merchandising, music, and theater divisions. 

It also owns and licenses 14 theme parks around the world. Disney is also a leader in producing cartoons, children’s movies, and animated films.


Mattel was founded in 1945. Harold Matson, Ruth, and Elliot Handler were making picture frames in their early days. They do that out of a Southern California garage. 

Elliot also took some of the scraps from the operation and made dollhouse furniture.

Ruth then took the dollhouse furniture out around and eventually found a customer. The customer owns a store on Wilshire Boulevard, near where she worked.

The dollhouse furniture’s success pushed Elliot and Ruth to focus only on making toys. In 1959, Ruth invented the Barbie doll, named after her daughter, Barbara. The rest, they say, is history. 

Mattel is a giant in the toy industry, with a wide range of signature toys such as Barbie Dolls and Hot Wheels.

Harley Davidson

Your boomer dad and uncle’s favorite bike is, yes, first built in a garage. In fact, you can technically call the place a shed. This is because the shed doesn’t have a car inside.

William S. Harley has always wanted to design motorcycles. As a 20-year-old, he had come up with the design of an engine to power a bicycle. 

Over the next two years, William Harley and his childhood friend Arthur Davidson built their motorcycle. Their workshop is a wooden shed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

The shed’s door had “Harley Davidson Motor Company” written on it. 

The company was officially founded in 1903. Many motorcycle companies were founded during that period. But only two survived the Great Depression in the 1930s. They are Indian and Harley-Davidson.

Harley-Davidson was given a shot in the arm during World War II, producing bikes for the military. Many soldiers who rode their bikes returned home and wanted a Harley. 

It has since grown to become one of the world’s most recognized and trusted motorcycle brands. 


In 1938, Will Hewlett and David Packard started Hewlett-Packard Co., Their first office? Packard’s garage in Palo Alto, California. 

Surprisingly, their garage is only 10 miles from Apple’s founding garage.

Little do they know how big HP will ever get. During the earlier days, they actually spent time arguing about whose name will go first in the company’s name. 

They settled the dispute with a coin toss. Hewlett won, so his name came first.

Their first product was an audio oscillator. The product’s first customer was Walt Disney, for their motion picture Fantasia. The oscillator’s function is to certify the surround sound systems installed in theaters.

Hewlett-Packard renamed itself into HP in 2015 following a corporate restructuring. This allows HP to spin off its printer business into another entity. This allows better management and performance, like how parts of Google became Alphabet. 

Today, Packard’s garage is a private museum known as the “birthplace of Silicon Valley. It is a popular destination for many tourists visiting Silicon Valley.


When you open up your Dell laptop, remember that it also had a humble origin. Michael Dell, the founder of Dell Computers, also launched his company from his garage.

He is not as famous as Gates or Jobs, or Zuckerberg. Still, Michael Dell is another college dropout who made it huge in the computer business.

In 1984, he started designing customized computers for people. A year later, he decided to drop out of college to grow his business. Within the first year, the business became profitable.

Dell has since become one of the strongest competitors in the computer market. It makes great desktop PC and successful laptop series such as the XPS.

Aside from computers, Dell also makes servers, data storage devices, and software. Dell also offers many other peripherals, such as printers, cameras, and TVs.


That swoosh that everyone wants a piece of also started small. In fact, Nike started so small it was not even in a garage. 

If you think a garage is too small a space to start a billion-dollar business, get this, Nike began in the trunk of a car. Yes, that’s right. 

Nike began as Blue Ribbon Sports in 1964 in the trunk of its founders, Phil Knight’s Plymouth Valiant. Legend says Phil Knight went to Japan and discovered Onitsuka Tiger shoes. He loved them so much that he asked if Onitsuka Tiger would allow him to be their US distributor. 

He then took these shoes back to the US and started selling them from his car trunk.

Knight later started making his own shows. He used his wife’s waffle makers to create sole markings for the shoes. His coach at the University of Oregon, Bill Bowerman, then tested them on runners. 

For the first 2 years, it couldn’t even find any retailers. Today, Nike is the biggest manufacturer of sports apparel and accessories.

Lotus Cars

In 1948, at the age of 20, Anthony Colin Bruce Chapman started Lotus Cars. He built the first Lotus racing car in stables behind The Railway Hotel in Hornsey, North London.

Chapman used a 1930s Austin Seven to build Lotus Mark I. The car helps to put Lotus on the map. 

Lotus’s most popular and memorable models include the Lotus Seven, Esprit, and Elan.

Many may not know this, but Lotus was behind many legendary cars today. These models include the MK2 Toyota Supra and Toyota Celica. 

Today Lotus Cars are one of the premier racing car manufacturers in the world. It is also part of the Geely group, a Chinese-based automaker that also owns Volvo, Smart, and Polestar.


Yet another world-dominating brand that started out from a garage was Maglite.

Founded in the 1950s, Tony Maglica started the company from a garage. He migrated from Croatia to America in 1950. 

He fled his native Croatia to escape the country’s devastation by the Second World War. Croatia later also fell into the iron grip of Communist control as part of Yugoslavia.

Lacking funds, Maglica used $125 he’d saved to buy a lathe and started a workshop. Maglite then released its first flashlight in 1979.

Today, Maglite (paid link) is the standard issue flashlight for all police officers in the US.

Can I Run Business Out of My Garage

In many areas, operating a business from your home is not legal. Most US cities and towns have laws limiting business operations from home.

You can say the same with most developed countries as well.

But millions of businesses would die if every illegal home business in America is shut down. In fact, the economy would crumble to a standstill, and the country would fall into a huge recession.

Tipple effects may send tens of millions into joblessness, sparking another great recession.

However, you should check your country/state laws. This is because, depending on where you live, you may be able to run a home business

How Can I Make Money With My Garage?

There are many ways you can make money from your garage. Here are some ideas:

Rent It As A Parking Space: Most households have more cars than they used to. They could have parked up their garage and driveway and still needed more parking space. Rent yours to them, and use the rental money for your gas. 

Rent It As A Storage Space: People can have so much stuff in their houses that their garages can no longer be kept. Rent out your garage as storage space, and use the money collected.

Turn It Into A Workshop: If you have a hand in handiwork, turn your garage into a workshop, and start making things. You do not need to be the next Apple or Google, but you can start a workshop to build or repair furniture. You can help with auto repairs and maintenance too.

Have A Garage Sale: Most of us have way more stuff than we ever need. This is when a Garage sale can come in handy. Offer all the stuff you no longer need up for sale and be flushed with cash.

Rent It As A Pop-up Venue: Your garage can become a pop-up venue space. If you live in a neighborhood with many young adults, invite a couple of food trucks over. Slap on a few tables and chairs, and set up a band to play live music. If things work out, charge rent to the food trucks.

Convert Into Spare Room: If you do not need the garage, why not convert it into several spare rooms, and rent it to young adults? They would appreciate having their own space to live in and also the freedom. Just make sure you follow your local building code.

Rent Out Your Tools: Invite the guys to come in if you have tools in your garage. Have them do some work with your tools and charge rent. 

Your Own Business Space: You can always convert your garage into a home office. Then start building your own empire there. Research and develop the next product, or build the next Google. 

Need more ideas? Check out here for more ideas on how to make money with your garage.

Everything Starts as Nothing

Great ideas are still great, no matter where they’re started and developed.

It’s easy to look at the world’s largest companies and think, “I could never start something like that.” And you’d be right. Most of these companies took decades to get where they are today.

They didn’t start by trying to create Amazon, Apple, and Google. They began by creating an online bookstore, a computer, and a search algorithm.

Whether it’s a garage, a basement, or a dorm room, every business has modest beginnings. It’s not about where you start. It’s where you end up.

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