Jeff Bezos was born on January 12, 1964, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After earning a degree in computer science and electrical engineering at Princeton University in 1986, he worked for several Wall Street firms including Fitel, Bankers Trust, and the D.E. Shaw Group, where in 1990 he became the company’s youngest vice president.
In 1994 Bezos left D.E. Shaw to create Amazon.com, an Internet bookstore which he named after the famous river in South America. The company launched on July 16, 1995 and quickly became a huge success, selling books to customers in more than 45 countries during its very first month. Amazon went public in 1997 and subsequently expanded its product line to include the sale of CDs and videos the following year. Later, it began to sell all manner of merchandise through partnerships with major retailers and independent merchants. The company’s annual sales grew from $510,000 in 1995 to more than $17 billion in 2011, to $178 billion in 2017.
On June 15, 2012, it was reported that Bezos and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were planning to announce the launch of the Kindle Mobile Learning Initiative (KMLI), a “public-private partnership” between Amazon and the U.S. government. According to The Hill, the purpose of this “global e-reader program” would be to “introduc[e] aspects of U.S. society and culture directly to young people, students, and international audiences in new ways.” But KMLI was canceled even before it got off the ground, because its selected e-reader was not compliant with federal Section 508 requirements pertaining to information access for persons with disabilities.
In July 2012, Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie, announced that they had agreed to donate $2.5 million to help pass Referendum 74, which called for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Washington State. As a New York Times blog post noted at the time, this was “a game-changing gift” that “instantly” placed Mr. and Mrs. Bezos “among the largest financial backers of gay marriage rights in the country.” That November, Referendum 74 narrowly passed by a margin of about 3 percentage points.
On August 5, 2013, Bezos spent $250 million to purchase The Washington Post and other publications affiliated with its parent company, The Washington Post Co.
In 2014, Bezos’ Amazon corporation spent more than $1 billion to buy out Twitch Interactive, the world’s largest video-game-streaming platform.
In December 2016, Bezos joined with Bill Gates and a number of other wealthy investors to create Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $1 billion fund that would put money into “green energy” initiatives over the ensuing 20 years.
In January 2017, Bezos denounced the executive order by which President Donald Trump sought to temporarily deny entry to the United States for citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations that were known hotbeds of Islamic terrorism. In an email message to all Amazon employees, Bezos wrote: “This executive order is one we do not support. … Our legal team has prepared a declaration of support for the Washington State Attorney General who will be filing suit against the order. We are working other legal options as well. We’re a nation of immigrants whose diverse backgrounds, ideas, and points of view have helped us build and invent as a nation for over 240 years. No nation is better at harnessing the energies and talents of immigrants. It’s a distinctive competitive advantage for our country—one we should not weaken.”
In June 2017, Bezos voiced his wish to “protect” the earth from the possibility that the greenhouse-gas emissions associated with industrial civilization might eventually cause the planet to become “a retrograde world where we have to freeze population growth” in order to avoid an environmental catastrophe with existential implications. Asserting that “all of our heavy industry” should “be moved off-planet” over the course of “the next few hundred years,” he added: “Earth will be zoned residential and light industrial. You shouldn’t be doing heavy energy on earth. We can build gigantic chip factories in space.”
Bezos has been an avid supporter of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action through which then-President Barack Obama granted most DREAM Act-eligible individuals temporary legal status, work permits, access to certain publicly funded social services, and protection from deportation. In January 2018, Bezos announced that he was donating $33 million to fund scholarships – valued at $33,000 apiece – to cover college tuition expenses for 1,000 illegal-alien high-school students who were DACA beneficiaries. He gave this money to TheDream.US, a nonprofit education group dedicated to helping DACA students pay for college.
In the aftermath of the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd — a black man who had died after being abused by a white police officer in Minneapolis — a number of U.S. cities were overrun by protests and violent riots led, in part, by Antifa and Black Lives Matter. To show his solidarity with the demonstrators, Bezos placed on the Amazon homepage a large banner reading: “Black lives matter: Amazon stands in solidarity with the Black community.” An Amazon customer subsequently sent Bezos an email that said: “ALL LIVES MATTER! … if it wasn’t for all these lives providing their service to [you] and your company, where would Amazon be today?” Bezos responded to that customer as follows:
“I have to disagree with you. ‘Black lives matter’ doesn’t mean other lives don’t matter. Black lives matter speaks to racism that Black people face in our law enforcement and justice system. I have a 20-year-old son, and I simply don’t worry that he might be choked to death while being detained one day. It’s not something I worry about. Black parents can’t say the same. None of this is intended to dismiss or minimize the very real worries you or anyone else might have in their own life, but I want you to know I support this that we see happening all around us, and my stance won’t change.”
As of May 2020, Bezos’s net worth was approximately $143 billion, making him the wealthiest person in the world. His principal residence is a $25 million lake house in Medina, Washington. He also owns a 27,000-square-foot home worth about $23 million in the District of Columbia, a 2-acre property in Beverly Hills that is valued at approximately $25 million, and a $65 million private jet.
On June 29, 2020, the Bezos-owned live-streaming service known as Twitch — which the Donald Trump presidential campaign had utilized to stream rallies and campaign videos since October 2019 — announced that Trump’s account on the platform would be temporarily banned because of “hateful” remarks he had made during a recent campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Specifically, Twitch objected to Trump’s reference to a “tough hombre” breaking into a woman’s home. According to The Federalist, “Twitch also cited Trump’s now five-year-old comments about drugs and rapists coming over the [U.S.-Mexico] border.”
On February 2, 2021, Bezos announced his plan to step down as Amazon’s CEO and become the company’s executive chair. In a blog post to his employees, Bezos said that in his new role he would focus more on: (a) new products and initiatives being developed at Amazon; (b) his space exploration/rocket company Blue Origin; (c) his newspaper, The Washington Post; and (d) his charities. Bezos officially stepped down on July 5, 2021. He was succeeded by Andy Jassy, who had run Amazon Web Services since 2003.
On the morning of July 20, 2021 — the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing — Bezos participated in Blue Origin’s first manned space flight, accompanied by a hand-picked group of three people: (a) Bezos’ brother Mark; (b) an 18-year-old man from the Netherlands; and (c) an 82-year-old female aviation pioneer from Texas. The rocket was named New Shepard, in honor of America’s first astronaut, Alan Shepard. After the capsule reached an altitude of approximately 66 miles during its 10-minute flight, it touched down in a West Texas desert. Bezos exclaimed at that time: “Best day ever!”
Immediately after his space flight, Bezos held a press conference where he stated: “I have a little surprise for you. I am announcing today, a new philanthropic initiative … The Courage and Civility Award. It recognizes leaders who aim high, and who pursue solutions with courage, and who always do so with civility.” The first two winners of this award and the $100 million prizes that came with it, were the communist activist Van Jones and the Spanish chef José Andrés, the latter of whom founded World Central Kitchen to supply meals for needy people during natural disasters. When announcing the awards, Bezos said that “we should question ideas, not the person. … We need unifiers and not vilifiers. We want people who argue hard and act hard for what they truly believe.” Regarding Jones in particular, he said: “I bet Van Jones is going to do something amazing with that $100 million. I don’t know what yet. I bet he doesn’t know what yet, but it’s in your hands, Van Jones.”
For additional information on Jeff Bezos, click here.
Further Reading: “Jeff Bezos” (Biography.com); “Bill Gates teams up with Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos to Lead a $1 Billion Venture to Tackle Climate Change” (Daily Mail, 12-12-2016); “Jeff Bezos … Gives $33 Million To Nonprofit Helping Dreamers Pay For College” (Forbes, 1-12-2018); “How Jeff Bezos … Spends His Billions” (CNBC.com, 7-27-2017).