Back in 1993, when Mr. Bezos was working for a Wall Street investment firm, he noted that use of the World Wide Web was growing dramatically, but it was virtually a commerce-free zone. So he hatched the idea of selling books over the Internet.
Not that he was a romantic about leather-bound volumes or antiquarian archives. Mr. Bezos entered the book-selling business simply because he decided books were items that could be shipped easily. It was also a category in which a Web store could offer more inventory than any real-world shop.
Soon after he started, he made a list of other items that would be easy to sell over the Web. In June 1998, Amazon.com grew beyond books and began offering music CDs. Sales of toys, videos, tools and hardware, art and collectibles, vintage watches and, yes, even antiquarian books have followed in quick succession.
Similarly, there was little romance in the way Mr. Bezos came up with the name of the firm. He simply thumbed through the A section of the dictionary, until he came upon the name of the world's longest river and knew he'd discovered the company's moniker.
The noun Amazon also has been turned into a verb, thanks to Mr. Bezos. To be "Amazoned" has come to mean forcing traditional bookshops to squeeze profit margins in an effort to keep customers from switching their patronage to Amazon.com. The "being Amazoned" concept struck fear into the hearts of tradition-bound retailers, which at first eschewed the Internet. Amazon.com forced them to make a quick about-face, striving to integrate bricks with clicks.
His high standard of customer service, perhaps essential to convincing people to place an order in cyberspace, also gave traditional retailers fits.
But Mr. Bezos has done more for the Internet than develop e-commerce. He has turned Wall Street on its ear, helping convince investors that a company can be deemed a success even while it records huge losses year after year. Mr. Bezos' approach has helped encourage investors to pour millions of dollars into his and other Internet start-ups. His insistence on building his brand regardless of cost has kept fuel in the dot-com experimental engine.
Many of today's start-ups funded under this premise may fail, but the Internet economy owes a lasting debt to the affable, boyish Mr. Bezos, the father of e-commerce.