Jimmy Wales Biography

Jimmy is an internet entrepreneur best known for founding the open-content reference site Wikipedia.


Jimmy Wales was born in Huntsville, Alabama, on August 7, 1966. Wales attended graduate school for finance before dropping out to pursue business ventures. In 2001, Wales founded the open-content internet resource Wikipedia, which became the world’s largest encyclopedia. Wales also founded the for-profit web-hosting company Wikia, and has advised governments and universities.

Early Life

Jimmy Donal Wales was born in Huntsville, Alabama, on August 7, 1966. He attended a one-room school run by his mother and grandmother through the eighth grade. An intellectually curious child whose education proceeded according to the Montessori system, Wales spent considerable amounts of time reading encyclopedias. He credits this self-directed upbringing with his ability to think creatively.

Wales attended the Randolph preparatory school and studied finance at Auburn University. After graduating, he began a doctoral program in finance at the University of Alabama. Wales transferred to Indiana University before dropping out of school to take a job in a financial services firm.


Wales had been interested in the internet from its earliest days. In 1996, he left his job at the firm to cofound a startup called Bornis. Although the venture was not successful, it motivated Wales to pursue his vision of creating an online encyclopedia. In March 2000, he launched Nupedia—an open-content, peer-moderated reference site. He hired an academic, Larry Sanger, to serve as editor-in-chief.

Sanger learned about wikis in 2001 and Wales agreed to adopt the model. Wikipedia and Nupedia co-existed for a short time, with Wikipedia attracting much more traffic and participation. Without the funding to continue his position, Sanger resigned from both organizations in 2002. Sanger and Wales would later spar publicly over Sanger’s role at Wikipedia. While Sanger considers himself a co-founder, Wales claims total conceptual ownership of the enterprise.

The non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, founded by Wales, has overseen the development of Wikipedia since 2003.

Other Ventures

In 2004, Wales and colleague Angela Beesley founded a for-profit internet company called Wikia. He stepped down from his position as CEO in 2009.

Wales began advising the British government on potential open access initiatives in 2012. The goal of the project was to make government-funded research available to taxpayers at no cost. In addition to his paid positions, Wales serves on the advisory boards of a number of academic foundations and research centers.

Personal Life

Wales has been married three times and has two daughters. He has received a number of major awards and honorary degrees from institutions, including Amherst College.

Wales is an outspoken atheist and an adherent of Objectivism, a philosophy popularized by author Ayn Rand. Objectivism privileges individualism, capitalism and reason. He identifies as a libertarian though he is not a supporter of the Libertarian Party.