Google's 21st Birthday Doodle Takes Us Back to 1998

Today, Google turns 21 and the search engine has commemorated its anniversary in the most Google way possible—with a birthday special Google Doodle.

The Google Doodle harks back to the early days of the company, with a "photo" of a boxy desktop computer complete with the date in the bottom right-hand corner.

Google Doodle 21 Years
Google celebrates its 21st birthday with a Google Doodle that harks back to earlier times. Google.

Google Doodles have become a signature of the company. Its very first Doodle—a simple stick figure symbolizing the Burning Man festival—was published on August 30 1998 and predates its official birthday, September 27, as well as the various other dates it has celebrated over the years. (In 2004, for example, it celebrated its sixth birthday on September 7. In 2003, it celebrated its fifth on September 6.)

The cartoon, or doodle, was included as a comical message to tell Google users the owners were out of office—they were attending the Burning Man festival.

Since then, Google Doodles have been used to celebrate holidays and anniversaries as well the lives of famous artists, pioneers and scientists. According to Google, there have been more than 4,000 doodles across home pages around the world.

Google Doodle Burning Man
Google's first doodle. The stickman was a joke to let the search engine's users know its owners were out of office attending the Burning Man festival.

The company has come a long way over the last two decades, from starting off in a Stanford dorm room to its current home—a giant Mountain View campus (or Googleplex) in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. Not to mention its international offices, spanning 50 countries across the world.

Google was officially started in 1998 by two Stanford University PhD students: Sergey Brin and Lawrence (or Larry) Page. The pair published a paper detailing the prototype of a "large scale search engine" based on a system that ranks a website's importance according to its page number, relevancy, and linking back to the original webpage.

But Google did not formerly receive its "Inc" status until after it was granted funding in the form of $100,000 from Sun Microsystem co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim. This money gave the students the financial opportunity to move their operations from their dorm room to their first office in the San Francisco Bay Area—a garage in suburban Menlo Park, California, owned by Susan Wojcicki, the now CEO of YouTube, that you can now tour in virtual reality.

Today, Google Inc's operations have expanded to other services, including (but not limited to) mail, maps, smartphones and virtual reality headsets.

Google's success hasn't come without its controversies. The company's dominance in the tech market has landed it in trouble with organizations including the European Union, who charged Google 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion) in antitrust fines in March 2019. Critics have also raised objections to its work in China and its research into AI-controlled drones for the U.S. military, as well as problems around tax avoidance and its "bro-culture".