Stephen M. Case was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. His father was an attorney, his mother an elementary school teacher. The third of four children, young Steve showed an entrepreneurial bent from an early age. At six, he started a juice stand with his brother Daniel, using limes from their own back yard. The brothers shared a paper route, sold seeds and magazine subscriptions and started a mail order company they called Case Enterprises.
After studying political science at Williams College, Steve Case worked for Procter and Gamble, then managed pizza development for Pepsi's Pizza Hut unit. While traveling for Pizza Hut, he spent many evenings amusing himself with a new gadget, the personal computer. After exploring one of the first online services, the Source, he became fascinated with the possibilities of the online world. His brother Daniel, who had become an investment banker, invited him to attend the 1983 Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas, where he introduced him to the directors of Control Video, a struggling computer game company. Control Video offered Steve a job as a marketing assistant on the spot, and he jumped at the opportunity to pursue his vision of an interactive world of computer-based communication and entertainment.
Case tirelessly sought new investors for the venture, and in 1987 landed a deal to provide custom online services for Apple Computers. Not long after, he made a similar deal with Tandy, but when Apple withdrew from the agreement in 1989 to manage its own online service, Case and Quantum were again faced with a crisis. Case believed the only solution was for Quantum to create its own branded online service that would be independent of any hardware manufacturer. The new service, which Case named America Online, made its national debut in 1989. Quantum Computer Services changed its name to America Online, Inc. in 1991.
As a subscription-based online community, the fledgling AOL placed itself in direct competition with CompuServe, Prodigy and Genie, all backed by large corporate players like IBM, Sears and General Electric. AOL emphasized ease of use, creating a friendly, well-designed environment that attracted average consumers who had not warmed to the forbidding high-tech aura of the larger text-based corporate services. By the end of 1994, AOL had acquired more than a million subscribers and began expansion overseas. Threatened by the upstart, CompuServe tried to buy out AOL for $50 million. At the time, it seemed a reasonable offer and many observers thought AOL made a mistake in turning it down. When AOL went public in 1992 , it still trailed CompuServe in its subscriber base, in three years it had surpassed it.
AOL had come to the fore as the leading provider of branded online content, but as more home computer users gained access to the Internet through their phone companies and other providers, industry observers thought they saw AOL's reign coming to an end. Steve Case quickly adapted to the changing marketplace and set out to make AOL the most popular portal for the average consumer to enter the Internet.
With its user-friendly interface, AOL soon consolidated its position as the leading Internet service provider. Even mighty Microsoft, unable to dominate the Internet as it had the realm of system software, looked for ways to neutralize or acquire control of AOL, but Case stood his ground, and in time both Microsoft and telecommunications giant AT&T concluded partnership agreements with AOL. In 1998 AOL bought out the online services of its old rival CompuServe, and in 1999 it acquired Netscape Communications, the maker of popular Internet browsing software. Again and again, Steve Case had confounded his critics. While they predicted AOL's imminent demise, he had created the first blue chip company of the Internet.
In 2001 Steve Case orchestrated a merger the business press called "the deal of the century," acquiring entertainment and multimedia giant Time Warner for $164 billion in cash and stock. For two years after the merger, Case served as Chairman of the combined enterprise, AOL Time Warner, the largest media company in the world. As Chairman, Case oversaw an unprecedented array of media holdings, including the Warner Brothers film studio, Time Inc. publishing, Turner Broadcasting and CNN. AOL's membership peaked at 27 million in 2002, but hoped-for synergies between old and new media companies never materialized. An industry-wide downturn for Internet providers was devastating to AOL, whose losses became a serious liability for the parent company. In 2003, the parent company dropped the name AOL from its title and Steve Case stepped down as Chairman of the Board of Directors; he left the board altogether in 2005.
By 2009, it was widely acknowledged that the merger of AOL and Time Warner had failed completely, forcing the combined company to write off an unprecedented $100 billion in charges. Time Warner announced its decision to spin off AOL as an independent. company once again. Steve Case, no longer a member of the Board of Directors, expressed the hope that the company he built would find its way again as an independent player in the ever-changing Internet marketplace.