Amazon went public in 1997 and changed how we live

Twenty years after Amazon.com’s initial public stock offering, the once-shaky company has locked in its role as one of the technology world’s dominant giants. The impacts have transformed everything from local streets to the national economy.

Amazon went public 20 years ago this past week, priced at $18 a share.

Jeff Bezos, who had established what he first called Cadabra.com in a Bellevue rental house in 1994 and then moved to a shared building in Sodo, became worth $290 million the first day of trading.

If you’d been connected enough to get in on the initial public offering, your $10,000 bet would be worth nearly $5 million today.

I will leave the acclaim to Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times business reporter and notorious flatterer of the rich and powerful:

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“Skeptics of Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder, have spent the better part of the past two decades second-guessing and vilifying him: He has been described as ‘a monopolist,’ ‘literary enemy No. 1,’ ‘a notorious international tax dodger,’ impossible, a ruthless boss and — more than once — ‘Lex Luthor.’ His company used to routinely be described as Amazon.con.

“But you know what?

“Here we are, 20 years later, and Mr. Bezos has an authentic, legitimate claim on having changed the way we live.”

Plenty of evil people have the same authentic, legitimate claim of having changed the way we live. Bezos isn’t one of these — if anything, the republic owes him undying gratitude for saving The Washington Post and supporting its serious, essential journalism.

Bezos’ willingness to defy Wall Street’s short-term looter mentality is also commendable.

But changing the way we live has come at a price, not least in Amazon’s headquarters city of Seattle. This anniversary is a good time to attempt an assessment.

Amazon would have had a much harder time surviving and growing if it had…

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