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Early days weren't about Pez after all

| Saturday, June 15, 2002

SAN JOSE, Calif. — During eBay's rapid rise to Internet commerce powerhouse, the company nurtured a quaint tale of its origins, saying founder Pierre Omidyar created the site in 1995 so his fiancee could trade PEZ candy dispensers with other collectors.

It seemed to embody a seminal Silicon Valley moment as humble as the garage births of Hewlett-Packard Co. and Apple Computer Inc.

The story was so tied to eBay's identity that chief executive Meg Whitman often was photographed with PEZ collections, and 121 dispensers are on display in the lobby at company headquarters.

Too bad the story isn't true.

According to a new book on eBay, "The Perfect Store" by Adam Cohen, the PEZ myth was fabricated to interest reporters in the site in 1997.

The truth was merely that Omidyar had realized an auction-based marketplace would be a great use of the Internet. But Mary Lou Song, eBay's first public relations manager, discovered that the real story didn't excite reporters.

After she heard Omidyar's wife, Pam Wesley, say she had been having a tough time finding fellow PEZ collectors in Silicon Valley, Song decided to tell journalists that Omidyar had developed eBay to help Wesley's PEZ woes. Omidyar gave his blessing, and the legend was born.

EBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove, who joined the company in 1999, said Omidyar did use eBay to buy and sell his wife's PEZ collectibles but acknowledged that the site wasn't born that way.

"It has been slightly blown out of proportion," Pursglove said.

Another aspect of eBay shrouded in the fog of recent history is the company name. Conventional wisdom around headquarters has been that "Bay" referred to a safe harbor for trading goods, or was a tribute to nearby San Francisco Bay, according to Pursglove.

The truth is not so elegant, according to Cohen's book. Before starting AuctionWeb, the site that became eBay, Omidyar had a one-man consulting firm he called Echo Bay Technology Group because he thought the name sounded cool.

When it came time to register the Internet address, EchoBay.com was taken, so he shortened it to eBay.

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