The Walt Disney Co. (DIS) - Get Walt Disney Company Report and its characters are world famous, despite its humble origins. But how many people actually know its origins weren't with the animated drawings of a mouse by a young artist, but rather with a pair of brothers who went from animators to producers to movie, theme park and entertainment moguls with a few smart deals?
History of Disney
The man whose name became famous before it was the title of the company he co-founded with his brother, Walter Elias Disney was born Dec. 5, 1901 in Hermosa, a suburb of Chicago, Ill.
His early interest in art, and taking art classes, developed into his becoming a commercial illustrator at age 18. Disney first tried his hand at animation when he moved to Kansas City, Mo.
In 1921, while working with his friend, Ub Iwerks, he was contracted by Milton Field to animate 12 cartoons called "Newman's Laugh-O-Grams." At 20 years old, in May 1922, Disney incorporated Laugh-O-Gram Films with remaining assets from an original partnership with animator and producer Ub Iwerks, who he had befriended when both worked for a couple of Kansas City illustration studios. Iwerks joined Laugh-O-Gram Films as chief animator.
LOGF produced only nine of the contracted 12 films, and didn't generate much income, eventually going bankrupt. But Iwerks is credited with having helped Walt Disney create the iconic "Mickey," which Disney was first inspired to draw reportedly after observing a small house mouse that inhabited his office at LOGF.
In the early 1920s, Walt and his brother, Roy, moved out to California and founded what became Disney Bros. Studio in October 1923, starting out in the rear of a small office occupied by Holly-Vermont Realty in Los Angeles, where they paid $10 a month for the space.
Before the mouse known world-wide as Mickey made his debut, however, Walt and his brother Roy produced a series of short, live-action animated films called "The Alice Comedies." But the pair began building up a staff, and within four months moved next door to a larger space, where the sign "Disney Bros. Studios" was first hung. Among those joining the Disney Brothers in California was Ub Iwerks.
A year later, in 1925, the brothers made a deposit on a Hyperion Avenue lot in the Silver Lake part of Los Angeles. Construction of the new studio began not long after the lot was purchased. And in the 14 years of the company being located on that new lot, Mickey Mouse was born just three years after its initial purchase, in 1928. He was soon followed by Pluto, Goofy, Donald Duck and the rest of the now-well-known Disney characters.
With the release of the company's first full-length animated feature film, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," to critical worldwide acclaim in 1937, Disney realized he needed yet more space.
With profits from "Snow White," he put a deposit down on 51 acres of land in the nearby community of Burbank, and began designing a modern studio for the purpose of making animated feature films.
Disney was involved with all aspects of the design of the new facilities, from the layout of the buildings to the design of the animators' chairs.
- Walt Disney signs a contract to produce a series of "Alice Comedies" for M.J. Winkler, beginning Disney Bros. with his brother, Roy, in 1923.
- Disney Bros. Cartoon Studio changes its name to "The Walt Disney Studio" in 1926 when it moves to Hyperion Avenue.
- A year later, "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit" debuts.
- In 1928, Walt loses the "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit" series contract to Universal Pictures. That same year, having experienced the loss of a character he didn't own, Walt, his brother Roy, and Ub Iwerks create the Mickey and Minnie Mouse characters. Mickey Mouse debuts that same year in "Plane Crazy," and "Steamboat Willy" becomes the first synchronized sound cartoon.
- 16, 1929, The Walt Disney Studio is changed to Walt Disney Productions Ltd., and three other Disney companies are formed: Walt Disney Enterprises, Disney Film Recording Company, and Liled Realty and Investment Company. The same year, "The Skeleton Dance," the first of a "Silly Symphonies" series, debuts.
- In 1930, Disney productions' distribution is moved to Columbia Pictures.
- In 1932, Disney productions' distribution is moved from Columbia Pictures to United Artists. The same year, Walt Disney wins an Academy Honorary Award for his creation of Mickey Mouse at the 5th Academy Awards. A piece from the "Silly Symphonies" series, "Flowers and Trees," won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. It was also the first Technicolor cartoon. "Mickey's Revue" was released that same year as well.
- In 1933, "Three Little Pigs" won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
- A year later, in 1934, Donald Duck is introduced as a character in the film "The Wise Little Hen." And "The Tortoise and the Hare" wins an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
- In 1936, Disney distribution is moved once again, from United Artists to RKO Radio Pictures.
- Walt Disney's first full-length animated feature film, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," is released in 1937. It wins an Academy Honorary Award in 1938.
- In 1938, Walt Disney Enterprises, Disney Film Recording Company, Liled Realty and Investment Company and Walt Disney Productions, Ltd., all merge to form Walt Disney Productions.
- Two years later, in 1940, the studio moves officially to Burbank, Calif., and becomes a publicly traded company. Also, "Pinocchio" wins Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score.
- In 1941, "Fantasia" wins two Academy Honorary Awards. But also that year, a bitter animators' strike occurs. "Dumbo" wins an Academy Award for Best Scoring in a Musical Picture. The studio begins making propaganda films to boost U.S. morale during World War II.
- But by 1944, the company finds itself short on funds, and re-releases "Snow White," which not only generates much-needed revenue but also begins a pattern of re-releasing of animated feature films.
- In 1945, "The Three Caballeros" is released as the first live action combined with Disney cartoons film.
- In 1946, "Song of the South" and "Make Mine Music" are released. "Song of the South" wins an Academy Award for Best Original Song and an Academy Honorary Award in 1947.
- A year later, in 1948, Disney begins the "True-Life Adventures" nature film series, which lasts until 1960. "Seal Island" wins an Academy Award for Best Short Subject (two-reel).
- In 1949, the studio begins production on its first feature-length live action film, "Treasure Island." It also licenses characters to the Ice Capades.
- A few years later, in 1953, WED Enterprises is formed as an umbrella organization to control the rights to Disney, and contain the Disneyland design team and own and operate several attractions inside Disneyland, including the Disneyland Monorail System and Disneyland Railroad. Also in 1953, Disney makes the Disneyland programming deal with American Broadcasting-Paramount Theatres to fund Disneyland. Walt Disney, WED and Western Publishing were the other investors.
- A year later, in 1954, Disney studio ends its distribution deal with RKO Radio Pictures, and founds its own distribution arm: Buena Vista Film Distribution Company Inc., to distribute Disney feature films. The same year, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" wins Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Special Effects. The movie also becomes the first distributed by the Buena Vista Film Distribution Company.
- In 1955, Disneyland opens in Anaheim, Calif., "The Lady and the Tramp" is released, and "The Mickey Mouse Club" opens on ABC television, while "Magic Kingdom" premiers on ABC radio.
- Two years later, in 1957, "Old Yeller" is released, and "Zorro" (a Disney production) airs on ABC television. The series ran from October 1957 to July 1959.
- A year later, in 1960, "Pollyanna" and "The Swiss Family Robinson" are released. "Pollyanna" wins the Academy Juvenile Award.
- In 1961, Disney studio purchases the film and merchandising rights to A.A. Milne's "Winnie-the-Pooh" books, which continue being a leading source of revenue for the company to this day.
- In 1963, the Enchanted Tikki Room opens in Disneyland - the first attraction featuring audio-animatronics.
- In 1964, Disney releases "Mary Poppins," which becomes the first Disney film to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The movie won five other Oscars, including Best Actress to Julie Andrews. It received a total of 13 nominations, and also won Best Film Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Song for "Chim-chim-chiree."
- In 1966, "Winnie the Pooh and The Honey Tree" is released, and Walt Disney is diagnosed with lung cancer, and dies Dec. 15.
- By most accounts, from Disney's death in 1966 until at least 1987, the company began a slow decline, without clear direction, culminating in an unsuccessful greenmail attempt to buy the company from current shareholders.
- In 1967, construction begins on Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Fla., and its underlying governmental structure, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, is signed into law.
- A year later, "Winnie the Pooh and The Blustery Day" is released, winning an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, and "The Love Bug" is also released.
- In 1969, the Haunted Mansion attraction opens at Disneyland.
- In 1971, Roy Disney, Walt's brother, dies. Donn Tatum becomes chairman of the company, and Card Walker becomes president. "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" is released, and wins an Academy Award for Best Special Effects. The Magic Kingdom opens as the first park at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
- In 1977, Roy E. Disney, Walt's nephew, resigns from the company, citing a decline in overall product quality and issues with management.
- By 1982, The Coca-Cola Company (KO) - Get Coca-Cola Company Report tries unsuccessfully to buy out and takeover Disney, and Walt's son-in-law Ron W. Miller succeeds Card Walker as CEO. Also that year, "Tron" is released, eventually gaining recognition as a pioneering work in computer animation; and the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, (Epcot for short) opens in Walt Disney World Resort.
- In 1983, the Disney Channel begins production, and Tokyo Disneyland opens in Japan.
- A year later, after another buyout attempt, this time by Saul Steinberg, Roy E. Disney and his business partner Stanley Gold managed to remove Ron W. Miller as CEO and President, replacing him with Michael Eisner of Paramount Pictures as CEO and Frank Wells of Warner Bros. as COO and president. Touchstone Films is created to produce films aimed at more mature audiences than the usual Disney films. "Splash" becomes the first Touchstone Films release.
- In 1985, Touchstone Television is founded, and becomes the producer of "The Golden Girls," "Home Improvement" and "Boy Meets World."
- A year later, Walt Disney Productions name changes to The Walt Disney Company, and its distribution company's name is changed from Buena Vista Distribution Company to Buena Vista Pictures Distribution. The same year, the company's first-ever R-rated film, "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" is released, by Touchstone Films, and "The Color of Money" wins an Academy Award for "Best Actor" to Paul Newman.
- In 1987, the Disney Store opens in Glendale, Calif. Disney signs an agreement with the French government for the creation of the first Disney resort in Europe: the Euro Disney. The same year, Touchstone Films is renamed Touchstone Pictures. The company also releases the films "Good Morning, Vietnam" and "Three Men and a Baby."
- A year later, Walt Disney Computer Software is founded as a video game division of The Walt Disney Company, and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" is released, garnering four Academy Awards, including a Special Achievement award for its animation direction.
- In 1989, Disney and Jim Henson discuss the company's possible acquisition of Jim Henson Productions, including "The Muppets." And "The Little Mermaid" wins Academy Awards for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. In addition, the company also releases "The Dead Poets Society," which wins the Academy Award for Best Screenplay. And Disney-MGM Studios opens at Walt Disney World.
- Jim Henson dies in 1990, ending the potential Disney-Henson deal. The company releases "Pretty Woman," and "Dick Tracy," which wins three Academy Awards, for Best Makeup, Best Art Direction and Best Original Song. The company also creates Hollywood Pictures to produce films for more mature adult audiences, releasing "Arachnophobia" as its first film.
- In 1991, the first Disney Vacation Club Resorts opened at Walt Disney World. "Beauty and the Beast" is released, and becomes the first animated full-length feature film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. It wins Oscars for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. A few years later, in 1994, "Beauty and the Beast" became the first Disney animated film to be made into a Broadway musical.
- A year later, in 1992, the company released the movie "The Mighty Ducks," and was granted permission from the National Hockey League for an expansion franchise - The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, to coincide with the movie's release. "Aladdin" was released the same year, and won two Academy Awards, for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. In addition, Euro Disney opens outside of Paris.
- In 1993, Disney acquired the independent film distributor Miramax Films.
- A year later, in 1994, Frank Wells is killed in a helicopter crash, "Beauty and the Beast" opens on Broadway; Jeffrey Katzenberg resigns as studio chairman, to form his own studio, DreamWorks SKG; plans for a historical theme park to be located in Haymarket, Va., are dropped; Euro Disneyland is renamed Disneyland Paris, and "The Lion King" is released, winning two Academy Awards, for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. The movie "Ed Wood" is released, and wins Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Makeup.
- In 1995, Disney announces plans to purchase CapitalCities/ABC Inc., including ABC stakes in A&E Television Networks, ESPN, and DIC Productions LP. "Pocahontas" is released, and wins two Academy Awards. "Toy Story" wins an Academy Special Achievement Award for being the first full-length computer-animated feature.
- In 1996, the Capital Cities/ABC purchase is complete; Disney also acquires Jumbo Pictures, producers of a Nickelodeon animated series, "Doug." The same year, Disney releases the movie "Evita," which wins an Academy Award for Best Original Song.
- In 1997, "The Lion King" musical opens on Broadway; Disney enters a 10-year distribution partnership with Pixar Animation Studios, and Disney takes control of the Major League Baseball franchise the California Angels, renaming them the Anaheim Angels to draw more tourism to Anaheim.
- A year later, Disney and the Hong Kong government announce a new resort in Hong Kong, and Disney Cruise Line sets sail with its first ship, while Disney's "Animal Kingdom" opens.
- In 2000, Roger Iger becomes President, succeeding Michael Ovitz, who left in 1996.
- A year later, Disney buys Fox Family Network for $3 billion, and changes its name to ABC Family, and Fort Worth billionaire Sid Bass is forced to sell his Disney holdings because of a margin call caused partly by the stock market tumble following the 9/11 attacks. That same year, "Monsters Inc." wins an Academy Award for Best Original Song, while "Pearl Harbor" wins one for Best Sound Editing.
- In 2002, Disney gets into video gaming with "Kingdom Hearts," after teaming up with a video game company, formerly known as Square and later known as Square Enix, begins a joint business with Sanrio for greeting cards, wins the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for its "Spirited Away," and opens Walt Disney Studios Park.
- A year later, Roy E. Disney resigns as chairman of Feature Animation and from the board of directors, citing reasons similar to those that drove him to resign 26 years earlier, and with fellow director Stanley Gold establish Save Disney, to apply public pressure to oust Michael Eisner. At the same time, talks to extend the Pixar distribution agreement break down, and Pixar winds up seeking a new distribution partner. Disney sells its Anaheim Angels franchise to billboard mogul Arturo Moreno, and Disney releases its first non-Touchstone, non-Miramax, non-Hollywood PG-13 film under the regular Walt Disney Pictures label, "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."
- In 2004, Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Comcast Corporation Class A Report makes a hostile, unsuccessful $54.1 billion bid in stock for the company, plus assumption of $11.9 billion in debt, for a $66 billion total. The same year, Eisner is finally replaced as chairman by George J. Mitchell after a 43% vote of "no confidence." Meanwhile, "The Incredibles" wins Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Sound Editing. Disney also purchases "The Muppets" and "Bear in the Big Blue House" franchises from The Jim Henson Company for $75 million. And the Disney Store is sold and licensed to The Children's Place.
- A year later, Robert Iger becomes CEO, and focuses on core assets, including repairing the Disney-Pixar relationship. The same year, Disney sells The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to Henry Samueli of Broadcom Corp., who changes the team's name to the Anaheim Ducks. As Robert Iger replaces Michael Eisner as CEO, Roy E. Disney rejoins as a consultant with the title of Director Emeritus, and Disneyland celebrates its 50th anniversary. Meanwhile, Bob and Harvey Weinstein leave Miramax Films to take Dimension Films with them and form The Weinstein Company. And "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" wins the Academy Award for Best Makeup, while Hong Kong Disneyland opens.
- In 2006, Disney purchases Pixar Animation Studios for $7 billion; it releases "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," which wins an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, and Disney re-acquires the rights to "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit" from NBCUniversal, in exchange for ABC Universal letting commentator Al Michaels work on NBC Sunday Night Football. "Oswald" pre-dated Mickey Mouse as a Disney character.
- A year later, in 2007, Disney makes more changes. It acquires New Horizon Interactive along with Club Penguin, and its ABC Radio Networks along with 22 non-Radio Disney and ESPN Radio affiliates are sold to Citadel Broadcasting. Disney also shuts down its Hollywood Pictures division, and changes the name of Buena Vista Pictures Distribution to Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. The same year, "Ratatouille" wins an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
- In 2008, Disney Store is reacquired from The Children's Place, the subscription service Disney Family Movies is launched, control of The Muppets franchise moves from Disney Consumer Products to Walt Disney Studios; and the studio releases "WALL-E," which wins an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
- In 2009, Walt Disney Studios enters a distribution deal with DreamWorks Pictures, where DreamWorks' films will be distributed by Touchstone Pictures; Disney also starts the D23 official fan community, and releases the movie "Up," which wins Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score. And Director Emeritus Roy E. Disney dies of stomach cancer. On the last day of that year, Disney acquires Marvel Entertainment.
- In 2010, Disney sells off assets, including the "Power Rangers" franchise for $100 million, and sells Miramax Films to Filmyard Holdings, for $660 million. That year, the company also released "Toy Story 3," which won two Academy Awards, for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song.
- In 2011, Disney licenses theme park rights to the Avatar franchise from James Cameron and Lightstorm Entertainment, and announces its first Avatar-themed project at Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World. Also, Disney releases "The Help," which wins an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and "The Muppets," which wins the Academy Award for Best Original Song.
- In 2012, Disney acquires Lucasfilm from George Lucas, including its "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" properties, for $4.06 billion. That same year, Disney movies win three Academy Awards: "Lincoln" wins for Best Actor to Daniel Day Lewis and Best Production Design, while "Brave" wins Best Animated Feature. In addition, Disney releases the first Marvel film distributed by Disney, "Marvel's The Avengers."
- A year later, in 2013, Disney released "Frozen," which became the highest grossing animated feature, passing both "The Lion King" and "Toy Story 3," and which also won two Academy Awards that year, for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song.
- In 2014, "Big Hero 6" won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and Disney acquired Maker Studios for $500 million.
- A year later, in 2015, Disney combines its Consumer Products and Interactive Media divisions into Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media; Marvel Studios is reorganized under Walt Disney Studios, and Disney's Marvel Studios and Sony (SNE) - Get Sony Corp. Report announce a partnership to bring "Spider-Man" into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That same year, "Inside Out" wins an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, while "Bridge of Spies" wins an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. The studio also releases "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," the first Lucasfilm distributed by Disney.
- In 2016, Shanghai Disneyland opens, ABC Family changes its name to Freeform; construction begins on a "Star Wars" themed part of Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios. But also, DreamWorks ends its film distribution deal with Disney; and Disney Interactive Studios exits from publishing its own games to focus on third-party video game development adapted from its franchises by other developers. Disney's "Zootopia" wins an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, "The Jungle Book" wins for Best Visual Effects, and the character Spider-Man appears for the first time in the Marvel Cinematic Universes series in "Captain America: Civil War."
- A year later, in 2017, Disney proposed ending its existing deal with Netflix (NFLX) - Get Netflix, Inc. Report in 2019, with plans to launch a streaming subscription "video-on-demand" service of its own featuring its entertainment content beginning at the same time. Disney also announces plans to acquire key assets of 21st Century Fox from Rupert Murdoch. The Disney film "Coco" wins two Academy Awards, for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. Also, Pandora - The World of Avatar, opens at Disney's Animal Kingdom park.
- In 2018, Comcast offers Murdoch a counter-bid of $65 billion in cash for the 21st Century Fox assets; Disney ups its counter-bid with a $71.3 billion offer. Comcast drops the offer to pursue Sky Plc, leaving Disney free to acquire the Fox assets. That same year, "Black Panther" becomes the first superhero film nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and wins Oscars for Best Costume Design, Best Production Design, and Best Original Score.
- A year later, in 2019, Ron W. Miller, former Walt Disney Company CEO, president of the board of directors of the Walt Disney Family Museum, Diane Disney Miller's husband, and Walt Disney's son-in-law, dies. That same year, Disney acquires 21st Century Fox entertainment and cable television groups, with the exception of the broadcast television, news and sports group, which are now owned by Fox Corporation.
Disney, like any company, has been sued a number of times in the course of its business life. But, partly owing to its very public nature of an originally family operated company, Disney's controversies stem from roughly its creation by Walt Disney to its current incarnation. Through its history, the company has been accused of discriminating against various minorities, underpaying its workers, replacing its workers with cheaper foreign labor, pay inequalities, sexual harassment and outright racism and antisemitism.
- In 1953, a minor shareholder of Walt Disney Productions stock named Clement Melancon, sued Disney and WED Enterprises to court over the WED formation from other assets, accusing Disney of illegally funneling profits from Walt Disney Productions to the new entity. The lawsuit was settled in 1955.
- In 1930, Stephen Slesinger, a comic book pioneer, bought the copyright to "Winnie the Pooh" from its original author, A.A. Milne. Slesinger died in 1953, and his widow licensed the rights to Disney in return for regular royalties - but the family sued in 1991, claiming Disney had swindled it. The family demanded damages of $2 billion. A judge in Los Angeles struck the family's claim down in 2009.
- Rumors persisted throughout his life and after that Walt Disney was antisemitic, and a racist, with critics pointing to his depiction of slavery in "Song of the South" and of the color of villains versus protagonists even in movies like "Aladdin."
- In 1947, Disney testified before Senator Joseph McCarthy's infamous House Un-American Activities Committee, known as HUAC. He named many members of his staff who he said he suspected of having been Communist or having Communist leanings.
But the company survived and fought off lawsuits ranging from gender-based wage discrimination to outright and overt sexual harassment and even sexual assault.
More recently, in 2017, John Lasseter, at the time Chief Creative Officer of Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios and DisneyToon Studios announced a sudden leave of absence. Following the announced departure, allegations of sexual harassment of employees surfaced.
In April 2019, a lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging Disney paid female employees less than male employees in a case of wage discrimination based on gender.
And in August 2019, Paz de la Huerta, an actress, added as defendants to her suit against Harvey Weinstein filed in 2018 for sexual assault and harassment the Walt Disney Company, its former CEO Michael Eisner, current CEO Bob Iger, Weinstein's brother, Bob, and Miramax. According to the amended and expanded complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, "Iger made a series of decisions that allowed a range of actions by Harvey Weinstein that unacceptably harmed certain employees of Miramax," according to the filing. The suit seeks $60 million in damages. Harvey Weinstein is now facing allegations from more than 60 women who say that he sexually assaulted or harassed them.
The Walt Disney Co.
stock closed Monday, Oct. 21 at $130.26 per share, off 0.5% or $0.63 from the Friday before. On the same date a decade before, it was at $29.23 a share. Disney stock has grown more than an average 17% per year in the past decade, despite the lawsuits and allegations, corporate acquisitions and departures, and expanding into other businesses from its original.