With a fortune of over $90 billion, Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person, according to Bloomberg.
A surge in shares of Amazon early Thursday launched Amazon’s founder, 53, past Bill Gates to the top of the world’s wealthiest list for the first time. Although he’s been a billionaire for more than two decades, it’s a feat likely never imagined by the New Mexico native with very humble beginnings.
Bezos’ mother, Jackie, was a teenager when she became pregnant, according to Wired. Shortly before giving birth in January 1964, the 17-year-old married 18-year-old Cuban immigrant Mike Bezos, who formally adopted the baby.
It wasn’t until he was 10 years old that the future billionaire learned that Mike wasn’t his biological father. At the time, however, a different problem plagued him — he learned around the same time that he would need glasses.
“That made me cry,” he said.
Bezos has said that he has never met his biological dad — and he doesn’t care to.
“But the reality, as far as I’m concerned, is that my Dad is my natural father,” Bezos said, according to Wired. “The only time I ever think about it, genuinely, is when a doctor asks me to fill out a form.”
“It’s a fine truth to have out there,” he added. “I’m not embarrassed by it.”
Brad Stone, the author of The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, discovered Bezos’ true parentage while researching for the book: his father was Ted Jorgensen, a bike shop owner who had no idea his son was an internet mogul.
“I didn’t know where he was, if he had a good job or not, or if he was alive or dead,” Jorgensen told Stone in 2012, according to USA Today. “I wasn’t a good father or a good husband.”
As a child, Bezos spent summers working at his maternal grandfather’s ranch in Cotulla, Texas. Lawrence Preston Gise, or “Pop” as Bezos knew him, worked on space technology and missile defense systems and sparked his grandson’s interest in educational toys, according to Wired.
His mind continued to help him in all aspects of his life. According to Wired, when his parents enrolled Bezos in the youth football (though he barely made the weight limit), he was named defensive captain due to his ability to remember every player’s position on all the plays.
Those who knew Bezos as a high school student recalled his ambition to become a space entrepreneur.
“He said the future of mankind is not on this planet, because we might be struck by something, and we better have a spaceship out there,” Rudolf Werner, the father of Bezos’ high school girlfriend, told Wired.
After being named his high school’s valedictorian, Bezos worked as a cook at McDonald’s. To avoid such a fate the following summer, Bezos started the Dream Institute, a 10-day summer camp for kids, with his girlfriend. They managed to sign up six students — though two of them were Bezos’ own brother and sister — at $600 a pop.
Camp attendees were required to read a list of books, including The Lord of the Rings series, and science topics included fossil fuels and interstellar travel.
When he arrived at Princeton University for college, Bezos realized his dream of becoming a theoretical physicist likely wasn’t going to work out.
“I looked around the room, and it was clear to me that there were three people in the class who were much, much better at it than I was, and it was much, much easier for them,” Bezos said, according to Wired. “It was really sort of a startling insight, that there were these people whose brains were wired differently.”
Bezos switched his major to computer science, eventually turning down job offers from Intel, Bell Labs and Andersen Consulting to join a start-up called Fitel. Though he quickly rose through the ranks there, he left after two years for a job as a product manager at Bankers Trust.
Later, Bezos nearly launched a news-by-fax service startup with Halsey Minor, who would later found CNET. Instead, he got a job at hedge fund D.E. Shaw, rising to a senior vice president position after only four years.
It was at this job that he met MacKenzie Tuttle, who he married in 1993.
Bezos learned in 1994 that the web had grown 2,300% in one year. Hoping to take advantage of the extraordinary statistic, he made a list of 20 possible product categories to sell online before settling on books. Bezos left his position as D.E. Shaw and Amazon.com was born.
In the first month of its launch, Amazon had already sold books to people in all 50 states and in 45 different countries. The company went public in 1997, expanding from selling books to just about anything a buyer could imagine.
Bezos first made the Forbes rich list in 1998 with a net worth of $1.6 billion, gradually rising to $18.4 billion by 2012, ranking him 26th on the list.
Over the past two years, Amazon’s stock has soared along with Bezos’ fortune. He owns 79.9 million shares, or just under 17% of the company. His net worth has grown by $70 billion over the past five years, surging by $45 billion in the last two years alone.
Bezos now also owns The Washington Post and founded Blue Origin, a space-travel company. However, he was known to drive his 1996 Honda Accord long after he became a billionaire.