- Woodcut of "The Googol Company" offices, c.1718
On the 19th of January 1714, in the coffee house of Peter Gresham, fourteen gentlemen of learning, decided to create a joint stock company for the "location and retrieval of all information from matters trivial to matters important". They collectively bought an elaborate rambling house in Exchange Alley in the City of London; within walking distance of both the Bank of England and the London Stock Exchange.
Along with their own private libraries which contained a whole host of information, they very quickly formed a network with all sorts of partners including the British Museum and the British Library and named their joint stock company The Googol Company for "there are more than one hundred pieces of information; there are more than one hundred hundred pieces of information; there are more than one millions millions of pieces of information; there may be as many pieces of information as one with one hundred zeroes after."
From their room of the "Search Engine", men were employed with queries written on slips of paper, to go away and retrieve the answers to people's questions. Initially the fee for finding such information was fixed at two pence, which at the time was considered extravagant as many newspapers including the London Standard could be purchased for a penny. Googol's couriers and carriers would scoot all about the vast metropolis of London, making inquiries on all sorts of matters and if possible would return a result within the week. It was laborious and sometimes tedious as people had to wait for the job to be carried out.
Nevertheless, the company survived quite happily until the 1834 when fire broke out in Exchange Alley but existing fire brigades were already employed fighting the fire at the Palace of Westminster. Many company records and internal slips were lost at this time and the company's usefulness was significantly diminished.
With the advent of more modern offices, their query slips became far more numerous; ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous and the number of queries being made per day approached one hundred thousand per week by 1950.
- Googol Punched Cards, c.1965
From 1958 the company replaced its ancient system of slips of paper with modern IBM computers. For the first time, many exabytes of information could be stored easily and results were stored and recycled via an elaborate store of punched cards. These punched cards would be sent around the building via a series of tubes and not a giant truck as previously thought, internal documents can reveal.
It was decided though, that the name of a number could not be patented and so in 1961, the name Googol was replaced by the proprietary name of Google.
But it was the invention of the internet by Al Gore in 1969 that opened up the world to relatively free information and from Eternal September in 1993, the search queries could easily be automated and so, via the internet, people could pretty well much look up anything, including pictures of cats. From 1996 Google began to operate a website from new offices in Menlo Park, California and it now handles an estimated 24 petabytes of user-generated data each day, which is a far cry from hand written notes in a coffee house in London.
Happy 300th Birthday Google!
PS: Some of this probably isn't true. The research was a little hazy.