In 1995, the World Wide Web was given a gift—a worldwide classifieds website dedicated to connecting the people of the internet with the things they needed. The operation started out with one man sending out an email distribution list of local events in the San Francisco Bay Area to his friends. That man, Craig Newmark, expanded his service in 1996 to be web-based, adding multiple classified categories. By 2000, the service found its way to various cities across the United States, which is about when it started to take shape as one of the darker corners of the web.
Craigslist has been wrapped in controversy, from the multitude of adult services posted daily to the story of Philip Markoff, the New York man accused of using the service to rob or kill sex workers. The classifieds website may have a bad reputation for being unreliable and shady, but it far from represents the personality of its creator, Newmark.
Born on Dec. 6, 1952, in Morristown, NJ, Craig Alexander Newmark grew up with his brother Jeff and his mother Joyce. At 13 years old, Craig lost his father, an insurance salesman named Lee, leaving Joyce and her sons to struggle financially. Despite frequent hardships, Newmark graduated from Morristown High School and attended Case Western Reserve University. In 1975, he earned his bachelor of science degree and, two years later, finished his master of science.
Following graduation, Newmark worked as a programmer for IBM for 17 years before moving on to Charles Schwab. It was there that he was first introduced to what was then commercial-free internet. After he was laid off from Schwab, Newmark used his free time to come up with the concept for Craigslist, a free and near-unrestricted marketplace. On March 1, 1995, the first email that would spawn the bigger picture was sent to his closest friends. The email distribution list he created encompassed art and technology events around San Francisco and grew large enough to eventually lead to the dot-com format.
Though Craigslist was a free service, Newmark was able to secure a nest egg for himself. As Forbes estimated in 2017, the founder of Craigslist was worth approximately $1.3 billion. He’s not tight-pursed with his money, however, as he’s made a name for himself as a philanthropist. Newmark has donated to Democratic presidential campaigns, including those of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and has been known to support non-profit groups like NewAssignment.Net.
The 65-year-old billionaire still oversees some of Craigslist’s customer service aspects, though the bulk of his time seems to be devoted to the boards of the Sunlight Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Rock the Vote, Voto Latino, the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, PolitiFact and the Center for Public Integrity.