I remember the day very clearly. A sunny, temperate August afternoon in Chicago, when I hopped into my car and drove to the local Best Buy to pick up a bulky, state-of-the art IBM PS 2 desktop computer.

I was going to use it for word processing, and a back-to-school sale drove me to make the purchase. I had no thoughts of going "online." The computer box barely fit into the back of my small Ford, and I wheeled it back to my apartment in Lincoln Park with the windows open, enjoying the trees moving in the breeze (the excitement of buying my first computer after college clearly heightened my senses, as I remember it all so well). After setting up the monstrosity on my small desk, I plugged it in and fired it up. A few minutes later, the screen was alive, and suddenly I was looking at a bright blue America Online icon, in the shape of a stylized "A." 

I had heard of AOL, and my curiosity was piqued. It arrived with a free trial. To the chagrin of my roommates from that day forward, I unplugged the phone and put the cord into the back of the computer, then used the 14 baud modem to dial into AOL and set up an account. As the AOL welcome screen finally greeted me, the one, large icon on the front page was that of the Fool jester -- the same one the Fool uses today. The short promo copy said something like, "Talk about stocks on The Motley Fool!"

I had bought my first shares of stock in 1987, and had been hooked ever since, but I felt largely alone in my interest. A community of fellow investors, under the name of The Motley Fool? It was an instant click for me, and I don't believe I ever truly explored any other areas on AOL. Within minutes, I was visiting The Motley Fool boards, and then reading about the new Fool Portfolio.

Two brothers, investing $50,000 of their own money, announcing all buys and sells beforehand, with explanations behind each one. And, they were shorting shares, too. They were short Bed, Bath & Beyond. It was the first public short I had ever seen. The writing for the Fool Portfolio was fresh, fun and logical -- and helpful. The investment reasoning was already on display: Be long term, buy great businesses, don't be afraid to take risks -- in other words, buy AOL (fortune-making advice right from the start). Plus, the Fool Port column was published daily. Reading it quickly became a habit, as did the Fool discussion boards.

It's easy to forget that before the Internet -- and for me, before the Fool -- we invested on our own, with scarce information, without others to easily learn from, or bounce ideas off of,  let alone others to emulate and profit alongside.

Bound together by the Fool Portfolio, the Fool community took off and never looked back. Within two years, I myself was a full-time Fool employee, working on the Fool Portfolio with David and Tom as we bought stocks like Starbucks and eBay. It's hard to believe those "buy orders" were entered so long ago (and sell orders for them, never). If there's one thing that's been made clear, it's that investing for the long term in great businesses is one of the surest ways to grow real wealth -- and the long term isn't even all that long. It goes by like that. Alongside investment returns, the biggest reward has been meeting thousands of other investors online and later in person. As we mark this great anniversary, recommit to getting on board with your fellow Foolish investors, owning your favorite companies, and enjoying the ride!

Chime in! Click here to tell us how you discovered the Fool! And then let us know how we could improve the Fool for the next 20 years.

Jeff Fischer owns shares of Starbucks. The Motley Fool recommends Bed Bath & Beyond, eBay, Ford, and Starbucks. The Motley Fool owns shares of eBay, Ford, and Starbucks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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