Wales was born in Huntsville, Alabama, on August 7, 1966. His father, Jimmy, worked as a grocery store manager, while his mother, Doris, and his grandmother, Erma, ran the House of Learning, a small private school in the tradition of the one-room schoolhouse, where Wales and his three siblings received their early education. As a child, Wales was a keen reader with an acute intellectual curiosity.
After eighth grade, Wales attended Randolph School, a university-preparatory school in Huntsville, graduating at sixteen. Wales said that the school was expensive for his family, but that "education was always a passion in my household... you know, the very traditional approach to knowledge and learning and establishing that as a base for a good life."
He received his bachelor’s degree in finance from Auburn University. Wales then entered the PhD finance program at the University of Alabama before leaving with a master's degree to enter the PhD finance program at Indiana University.
In 1996, he and two partners founded Bomis, a male-oriented web portal featuring entertainment and adult content. The company would provide the initial funding for the peer-reviewed free encyclopedia Nupedia (2000–03) and its successor, Wikipedia.
On January 15, 2001, with Larry Sanger and others, Wales launched Wikipedia, a free, open content encyclopedia that enjoyed rapid growth and popularity, and as Wikipedia’s public profile grew, he became the project’s promoter and spokesman. He is historically cited as a co-founder of Wikipedia, though he has disputed the "co-" designation, declaring himself the sole founder.
Wales serves on the board of trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit charitable organization he helped establish to operate Wikipedia, holding its board-appointed "community founder" seat.
In 2004 he co-founded Wikia, a for-profit wiki-hosting service. His role in creating Wikipedia, which has become the world’s largest encyclopedia, prompted Time magazine to name him in its 2006 list of "The 100 Most Influential People in the World".
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