On December 20, 1996 Apple Computer, Inc. purchased NeXT.  TUAW:

According to CNET’s coverage on that day, the company was shopping for an operating system to replace the aging Mac OS. It had recently abandoned the Copland system project and was negotiating with Be and other companies. With the purchase of NeXT, Apple bought the core of what is now Mac OS X. It also gained WebObjects, the powerful Web app development tool that had been licensed to 275 corporate customers by the time of the sale to Apple.

 15 years is an astonishingly short period of time to go from near bankruptcy to one of the most valuable companies in the world.

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