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Linus Torvalds posted the first version (.001 of the kernal) in Sept of 1991. Apparently the source for his first posting wouldn’t even complie correctly and he certainly never thought it would amount to anything more than a hobby project for himself and a handful of people around the world. Take a look at at http://www.li.org/li/linuxhistory.shtml
it has a lot if interesting info with notes from Linus himself.