Amazon.com sells millions of books each year. In 2010, the company’s revenue broke 34 billion dollars. They’ve branched from selling books to selling everything from clothing to tires to dog toys to phones. But Amazon wasn’t always a multi-billion dollar company. Their first non-internal order came in 1995, and it was a science book.
Writing on Quora, Ian McAllister, an employee at Amazon, says, “The first product ever ordered by a customer on Amazon was Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought by Douglas Hofstadter.” On Quora, John Wainwright says he might have been that customer. He writes, “I think I’m the customer mentioned in the other answers, I did indeed buy Hofstadter’s Fluid Concepts on April 3rd, 1995 (it’s still in my order history listing!).” In fact, Wainwright still has the packing slip from Amazon, and the book.
While no one has entirely confirmed that Wainwright is the true customer, Kathy Lin, a product manager at Amazon, added to the Quora thread that a building on the Amazon campus is named after him.
If you’ve never heard of the book Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought it’s okay. It’s a relatively technical book by Douglas Hofstader, who is much more famous for another book – Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, affectionately nicknamed GEB by fans. Fluid Concepts is actually a collection of articles, each introduced by Hofstader and written by members of the Fluid Analogies Research Group (FARG). Their aim was to further the computer modeling of intelligence.
In the introduction, Hofstader writes this about FARG:
From its very outset, the intellectual goals and activities of FARG have been characterized by two quite distinct strands, one of them concerned with developing detailed computer models of concepts and analogical thinking in carefully-designed, highly-restricted micro domains, and the other concerned with observing, classifying, and speculating about mental processes in their full, unrestricted glory.
Fluid Concepts is still on sale today at Amazon, with the same cover that Wainwright bought. According to Novel Rank, the book currently holds sales position 182,171. You could buy your own copy, but you will never be the first.
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