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At the beginning of 1998, Google (GOOG) was just a mathematical project for a couple of doctorate students at Stanford University. The first investor wrote a $100,000 check to a company that didn't exist and the rest, as they say, is history. Audacious is one way to describe Larry Page and Sergey Brin, also known as the Google Guys.

In the company's first press release, Brin said Google was headed toward being "a perfect search engine" that will "process and understand all the information in the world." The hubris paid off. Google was founded at the right time, with the right technical requirements to become a verb. The company's initial public offering in 2004 remains the largest for an Internet company, making Brin and Page billionaires many times over. As the services Google provided became essential to everyday life, the company grew rapidly, opened offices around the world, and added thousands of employees.

Google sites now handle more Internet searches in the U.S. than all other search engines combined, according to ComScore. Becoming a global corporation has invited greater scrutiny—and missteps. Google's power approaches that of a monopoly in enough areas that acquisitions are followed by months of negotiations with the U.S. Justice Dept. Before the company pulled out of China, Google agreed to censor search results in the country, drawing fire from human rights groups. And in numerous areas, the corporation has acted as if it is above the law, though the revelation in 2010 that Google's self-driven vehicles had secretly logged thousands of miles on public roads seemed to cause as much excitement as it did controversy.

Click to read about the high points in the rapid rise of the company that owns the world's most popular search engine.
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