The site went live on July 16, 1995 and became visible to all web users. And as word spread, the small Amazon teams are almost immediately that they had open a strange window onto human behavior. The internet’s early adopters ordered computer manuals, Dilbert comic collections, books on repairing antique musical instruments — and sex guides. (The bestseller on Amazon.com from that first year: How To Set Up And Maintain A World Wide Web Site: The Guide For Information Providers, by Lincoln D. Stein.
There were orders from US troops overseas and from an individual in Ohio who wrote to say he lived 50 miles away from the nearest bookstore and that Amazon.com was a godsend. Someone from the European Southern Observatory in Chile ordered a Carl Sagan book, apparently as a test, and after the order was successful, the customer placed a second order for 7000 copies of the same book. Amazon was getting one of the first glimpses of the “long tail” — the large number of esoteric items that appeal to relatively few. Paul Davis once surveyed the assortment of books squirreled away on the shelves in the basement and with a sigh called it “the smallest and most eclectic bookstore in the world.”
No one had been hired yet to pack books, so when volumes rose and the company fell behind on shipping, Bezos, Kaphan, and the others would descend to the basement at night to assemble customer orders. The next day, Bezos, MacKenzie, or an employee would drive the boxes to UPS or the post office.
The packing work was arduous and often lasted well into the night. Employees assembled orders on the floor, wrapping books in a cohesive cardboard that stuck to itself but not anything else. That summer, Nicholas Lovejoy, a former D.E. Shaw employee who had left the hedge fund to teach high school math in Seattle, joined the company part-time and made the obvious suggestion of adding packing tables to the warehouse. That tidy anecdote quickly made catalog of Jeffisms and was still being repeated 20 years later. “I thought that it was the most brilliant idea I’ve ever heard in my life,” Bezos said in a speech, finding the story so freshly amusing that he accompanied it with a honking laugh.