"I believe that if you show people the problems and you show them the solutions they will be moved to act".
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and philanthropist extraordinaire, is one of the most fascinating and influential figures of the ‘90s and ‘00s tech world. Even if you’re too young to remember all the jokes about his haircut from late-night talk show monologues in the 90s, chances are you are still aware of Gates—and probably use some of the software that made Microsoft famous, such as Excel, Word, and the Windows operating system. Gates may have become a household name from Microsoft and the personal computer revolution, but he is now equally known for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and his incredible philanthropy.
Here are 42 fascinating facts about Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Bill Gates is one of the wealthiest people in the world. Gates has a current net worth of $95.4 billion.
Gates has held the #1 spot on Forbes’ list of the world’s billionaires for 18 out of the past 23 years. From 1995 to 2017 he was at the top of the list, but has since been bumped to the number two spot by fellow tech giant and Washington state resident Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.
You’d think that as one of the world’s wealthiest people, Bill Gates would be seeing green. But in fact, he can’t. In a 2006 interview, the billionaire revealed that he is color-blind.
Young Bill Gates got an early start in his career with computers. In 1968, a 13-year-old Gates attended Lakeside School, where the Mothers’ Club purchased a computer—a Teletype Model 33. Lakeside was one of the few schools in the United States to have a computer at that time.
Gates quickly took to computer programming. He wrote his first computer program as a teenager in at Lakeside School. His program, written in the BASIC programming language, was a computer game that allowed the user to play tic-tac-toe against the computer.
Gates’ schedule is planned down to the minute, but somehow he still finds time to read 50 books each year. That’s almost a book per week. The ceiling of his home library features an engraved quotation from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
Gates isn’t just an avid reader—he’s also written two books. The Road Ahead was published in 1995, and was co-written by Microsoft executive Nathan Myhrvold. His second book, Business @ the Speed of Thought, was published in 1999.
Gates graduated Lakeside School in 1973 as a National Merit Scholar. However, his education after high school didn’t last long. Gates dropped out of Harvard College after only two years.
Gates has mastered a number of programming languages, but he only speaks one human language—English. Despite having a hand in charitable endeavors across the globe, Gates has said that not learning to speak any languages other than his native English is one of his biggest regrets.
In 1975, after reading an article in Popular Electronics on the Altair 8800 computer, Gates contacted Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems, then its creators, about writing programs for the computer. Gates and Paul Allen, his childhood friend from Lakeside School, and founded a company they called "Micro-Soft". In 1976, the hyphen was dropped, and Microsoft was born.
Unlawful downloading of music, movies, and computer programs are the scourge of the tech and entertainment industries these days—but the concepts aren’t new. Within a year of founding Microsoft, Gates discovered that a leaked copy of Microsoft’s BASIC programs were being copied and shared. He wrote an open letter in 1976 claiming that more than 90 percent of Microsoft Altair BASIC users had not paid for the program, and that the "hobby market" was threatening to cripple the burgeoning tech industry, eliminating incentives for developers to create software.
Bill Gates has led a charitable life free of scandal, but he hasn’t always followed the rules. In 1975, 22-year-old Gates was detained in New Mexico for speeding and driving without a license. In 1997, he was detained again, this time for running a red while driving without a license. These arrests, plus his dropping out of college, might hint that the tech pioneer might have a problem with authority—and perhaps foreshadowed the antitrust litigation against Microsoft almost two decades later.
In 2008, Gates appeared in a series of Microsoft promotional ads alongside comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The ad featured the pair shopping at a discount shoe stores, and when Gates holds up a membership card, in place of the card’s ID photo, viewers can instead glimpse the 1977 mugshot from his speeding offense.
Even in the ‘70s, San Francisco’s Silicon Valley and the "Silicon Prairie" of Dallas, Texas were hubs of the tech industry in America. Gates bucked the trend, and moved his company from Albuquerque, New Mexico back to his home state of Washington, in Bellevue, just outside Gates’ hometown of Seattle. In 1986, the software giant moved to Redmond, Washington, and today boasts an eight million square foot compound with 30,000 to 40,000 employees, plus additional offices in Seattle, Bellevue, and Issaquah.
Gates might be a computer wiz, but that doesn’t mean he lacks an appreciation for the arts. He’s known to be a music fan, and has said Weezer is his favorite American rock band. His other favorites include U2 and fictional rock group Spinal Tap.
Bill Gates counts Italian Renaissance painter and inventor Leonardo da Vinci as a major source of inspiration. In fact, one of the billionaire’s most impressive purchases was a collection of Da Vinci’s scientific writings. In 1994, Gates paid $30.8 million for the Codex Leicester, which contains da Vinci’s writings on fossils, the movement of water and soil erosion, and the luminosity of the moon. Gates didn’t hoard this knowledge though—he had the codex pages scanned and released them as a CD-ROM in 1997. Since then, the codex has been on display at art galleries around America, including in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Raleigh, South Carolina.
Unlike some billionaires, Bill Gates often eschews luxury and famously flew coach until 1997, when he finally purchased his own plane.
Bill Gates met his wife Melinda through work. Melinda Gates (née French) was working as a product marketing manager at Microsoft when she met Bill at a dinner. The pair kept their relationship a (poorly kept) secret for years, before making it public in 1993 when they became engaged. The lovebirds married in 1994, and have been married for 24 years.
Gates and his wife Melinda have three children together: Jennifer Katharine, Rory John, and Phoebe Adele. While their father may have a net worth of over $80 billion, the Gates children will inherit only $10 million each. Says Gates, "Leaving kids massive amounts of money is not a favor to them". One might argue that $10 million might still count as a "massive amount of money".
As an important and influential man, Bill Gates leads an extremely well-ordered life. His days are planned on a minute-by-minute schedule, similar to the way US Presidents have their days scheduled.
Calling the period during the ‘90s when it seemed like tech would grow infinitely larger and more profitable a "dot-com boom" doesn’t quite do it justice—in fact, the wealth of many, including Gates, grew so exponentially that terms had to be invented to account for it! In 1999, Gates’ fortune briefly peaked at $101 billion, making him the world’s first "centi-billionaire".
Gates has been open about his agreement with secular humanists like Richard Dawkins, but has stated that he is religious. He told Rolling Stone that his children were raised Catholic, and said in the same interview, "I think it makes sense to believe in God, but exactly what decision in your life you make differently because of it, I don't know".
Bill Gates and his wife Melinda reside in Medina, Washington, outside Seattle. They share an earth-sheltered mansion on a hill overlooking Lake Washington, worth a reported $125 million. The 66,000 square foot mansion boasts a 60-foot swimming pool with an underwater music system, a 2,500 square foot gym, and their dining room alone is 1,000 square feet. The house and property are so lavish that property taxes alone run just under $1 million per year.
During his lifetime, Gates has been involved with various philanthropic endeavors, and in 1999 he and his wife founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Foundation has poured billions of dollars into a wide range of undertakings, including funding libraries in the United States, combating diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, and encouraging agricultural development and sustainable crops in countries with high poverty rates. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the single largest private philanthropic institution in the world, with a staggering $43 billion endowment.
One of the most notable causes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the struggle for clean, drinkable water in poor and developing countries. In 2015, Gates appeared on The Tonight Show to promote a machine that extracts potable water from sewage—Gates and Fallon both drank a glass of water treated by the machine to prove its safety.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports causes all over the world, but Gates has promised even more in the future. He spearheaded the "Giving Pledge," promising to donate half of their wealth to charitable causes after his passing. Fellow tech billionaire Elon Musk and billionaire financier Warren Buffet have also taken on this incredible pledge.
Gates inspiration for his incredible philanthropy may have been imparted by his parents. His mother, Mary Maxwell Gates, served on the board of the United Way.
Gates dropped out of Harvard in 1975, after only two years, but still managed to get a Harvard degree to hang on his wall: the school bestowed on him an honorary degree in 2007. Gates must have quite a collection going: he also has honorary degrees from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, Tsinghua University in China, and Waseda University in Japan.
Honorary degrees aren’t the only accolades Gates has received: Queen Elizabeth II of England made Gates an honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 2005, in support of his charitable and philanthropic efforts. He’s also received the Placard of the Order of the Aztec Eagle from Mexico, the Padma Bhushan from India, and the Silver Buffalo Award from the Boy Scouts of America.
Gates might have proven his mettle in the tech industry, but he’s not always right. In 2004, he predicted that spam email would be eliminated within two years—yet 14 years later, many of our email inboxes are still bombarded by the unwanted messages.
Bill Gates no longer serves as Microsoft CEO—he stepped down in 2006 to focus on his charitable work at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. However, he still serves as advisor to Satya Nadella, the current CEO. As a "Personal Agent," his role is to "remember everything and help you go back and find things and help you pick what things to pay attention to".
What would Bill Gates be doing if Microsoft hadn’t taken off? The billionaire has said he has a fascination with artificial intelligence, and would have become an artificial intelligence researcher if his software company hadn’t panned out.
Bill Gates wasn’t the only one to cash in on Microsoft’s success. When the company went public in 1986, the stock price skyrocketed and Bill was only one of 12,000 millionaires created by the company’s success.
Gates reportedly also enjoys playing bridge, golf, and tennis in his practically-nonexistent free time. We hope he still finds time for the odd game of computer tic-tac-toe now and then.
Despite his charitable work, Gates has faced some criticism for his business practices. In 1998, Microsoft was the target of an antitrust lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice, which sought to determine whether Microsoft’s bundling of software packages was intended to bring about a monopoly on the market. The case alleged that Microsoft made it difficult to install competing software on computers running Microsoft Windows, and also made it difficult to uninstall programs like Internet Explorer that came automatically installed with Windows. The average Windows user of the ‘90s who suffered through the Internet Explorer loading screen was probably likely to agree that there was something behind the allegations.
In 2000, Microsoft lost the landmark antitrust case against them, and as a result were ordered to split the company in half, creating what were to be referred to as "Baby Bills". However, an agreement was reached in 2001 to allow the company to stay as one—only one Bill remains.
Despite the Antitrust case against Microsoft, Bill Gates is not against big government. Since the ruling, both Gates and Microsoft have been large donors to the Democratic Party, and Gates has made many statements in favor of higher taxes for the wealthy. He told the BBC, "I've paid more tax than any individual ever, and gladly so... I've paid over $6 billion in taxes".
Microsoft has upwards of 108,000 employees worldwide as of 2018. However, when the company first started, Bill Gates took a perhaps too-personal interest in the comings and goings of his employees. He admitted to having memorized their license plates and keeping track of when his employees were arriving and leaving work. He said, "Eventually, I had to loosen up, as the company got to a reasonable size".
Bill Gates had a lengthy and complicated relationship with fellow iconic tech entrepreneur Steve Jobs. The pair began as allies—Microsoft wrote software for the Apple II personal computer and the pair regularly spent time together in Cupertino at Apple’s headquarters. However, while Gates had earlier been critical of Apple’s revolutionary Graphical User Interface, their relationship fractured when Microsoft released its own GUI in the form of Windows in 1985.
After their feud, Steve Jobs took some public pot-shots at Bill Gates’ nerdy, stodgy public image. Jobs said of Gates, "He’d be a broader guy if he had dropped acid once or gone off to an ashram when he was younger".
Gates quickly grew out of his school’s computer. He and some schoolmates sought out other computers, including a PDP-10 belonging to the Computer Center Corporation. The students, who included Paul Allen and Ric Weiland, both of whom also went on to become tech industry pioneers, were eventually banned from using the computer after they found a workaround in the software that allowed them to get free computer time. But the ban didn’t last long—at the end of the summer, the CCC offered computer time to the students in exchange for finding and fixing bugs like the one they’d exploited in their programs. Another company hired them the following year to write a payroll program.
Young Gates used his talents for programming to help out at Lakeside School—and help himself. After the school asked him to write a program to schedule students’ class timetables, Gates modified the code to place himself in classes with a high number of "interesting girls".
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