Founded on October 16 , , by Walt and Roy Disney as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, Walt Disney Productions established itself as a leader in the American animation industry before diversifying into live-action film production, television, and travel.
Taking on its current name in , The Walt Disney Company expanded its existing operations and also started divisions focused upon theatre, radio, publishing, and online media. In addition, it has created new divisions of the company in order to market more mature content than it typically associates with its flagship family-oriented brands. The company is best known for the products of its film studio, the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group , and today one of the largest and best-known studios in Hollywood.
An early and well-known cartoon creation of the company, Mickey Mouse , is the official mascot of The Walt Disney Company. Contents Corporate history — The silent era In early , Kansas City, Missouri animator Walt Disney created a short film entitled Alice's Wonderland, which featured child actress Virginia Davis interacting with animated characters. Film distributor Margaret J. Winkler contacted Disney with plans to distribute a whole series of Alice Comedies based upon Alice's Wonderland.
On October 16, , they officially set up shop in their uncle Robert Disney's garage, marking the beginning of the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio.
Within a few months, the company moved into the back of a realty office in downtown Los Angeles, where production continued on the Alice Comedies until In , the studio moved to a newly constructed studio facility on Hyperion Avenue in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles. After the demise of the Alice comedies, Disney developed an all-cartoon series starring his first original character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit , which was distributed by Winkler Pictures through Universal Pictures.
Disney only completed 26 Oswald shorts before losing the contract in February , when Winkler's husband Charles Mintz took over their distribution company. Mintz hired away all of Disney's animators except Ub Iwerks to start his own animation studio.
Disney's first sound film Steamboat Willie , a cartoon starring Mickey, was released on November 18, It was also the first cartoon to feature synchronized sound. Steamboat Willie premiered at B. In , Disney signed an exclusive contract with Technicolor through the end of to produce cartoons in color, beginning with Flowers and Trees The popularity of the Mickey Mouse series and the Silly Symphony series allowed Disney to plan for his first feature-length animation.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and World War II Deciding to push the boundaries of animation even further, Disney began production of his first feature-length animated film in Taking three years to complete, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs , based upon the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale, premiered in December and became the highest-grossing film of that time by Snow White was released through RKO Radio Pictures , which had assumed distribution of Disney's product in July , after United Artists attempted to attain future television rights to the Disney shorts.
Using the profits from Snow White, Disney financed the construction of a new studio complex in Burbank, California. The new Walt Disney Studios, in which the company is headquartered to this day, was completed and open for business by the end of The following year, Walt Disney Productions had its initial public offering.
The studio continued releasing animated shorts and features, such as Pinocchio , Fantasia , Dumbo , and Bambi After World War II began, box-office profits declined. When the United States entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, many of Disney's animators were drafted into the armed forces. Films such as the feature Victory Through Air Power and the short Education for Death both were meant to increase public support for the war effort.
Even the studio's characters joined the effort, as Donald Duck appeared in a number of comical propaganda shorts, including the Academy Award-winning Der Fuehrer's Face Post-war and television With limited staff and little operating capital during and after the war, Disney's feature films during much of the s were "package films," or collections of shorts, such as The Three Caballeros and Melody Time , which performed poorly at the box-office.
At the same time, the studio began producing live-action films and documentaries. Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart featured animated segments, while the True-Life Adventures series, which included such films as Seal Island and The Vanishing Prairie , were also popular and won numerous awards.
The release of Cinderella in proved that feature-length animation could still succeed in the marketplace. Other releases of the period included Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan , both in production before the war began, and Disney's first all-live-action feature, Treasure Island In October , the ABC network launched Disney's first regular television series, Disneyland, which would go on to become one of the longest-running primetime series of all time.
Disneyland allowed Disney a platform to introduce new projects and broadcast older ones, and ABC became Disney's partner in the financing and development of Disney's next venture, located in the middle of an orange grove near Anaheim , California. Disneyland In , Walt Disney used his Disneyland series to unveil what would become Disneyland, an idea conceived out of a desire for a place where parents and children could both have fun at the same time. On July 18 , , Walt Disney opened Disneyland to the general public.
On July 17 , , Disneyland was previewed with a live television broadcast hosted by Art Linkletter and Ronald Reagan. After a shaky start, Disneyland continued to grow and attract visitors from across the country and around the world. A major expansion in included the addition of America's first monorail system. For the New York World's Fair , Disney prepared four separate attractions for various sponsors, each of which would find its way to Disneyland in one form or another.
During this time, Walt Disney was also secretly scouting out new sites for a second Disney theme park.
In November , "Disney World" was announced, with plans for theme parks, hotels, and even a model city on thousands of acres of land purchased outside of Orlando, Florida.
Disney continued to focus its talents on television throughout the s. Its weekday afternoon children's television program The Mickey Mouse Club , featuring its roster of young "Mouseketeers", premiered in to great success, as did the Davy Crockett miniseries, starring Fess Parker and broadcast on the Disneyland anthology show.
Two years later, the Zorro series would prove just as popular, running for two seasons on ABC, as well as separate episodes on the Disneyland series.
Despite such success, Walt Disney Productions invested little into television ventures in the s, with the exception of the long-running anthology series, later known as The Wonderful World of Disney. Disney's film studios stayed busy as well, averaging five or six releases per year during this period.
While the production of shorts slowed significantly during the s and s, the studio released a number of popular animated features, like Lady and the Tramp , Sleeping Beauty and One Hundred and One Dalmatians , which introduced a new xerography process to transfer the drawings to animation cels. Disney's live-action releases were spread across a number of genres, including historical fiction Johnny Tremain, , adaptations of children's books Pollyanna, and modern-day comedies The Shaggy Dog, One of his first acts was to rename Disney World as "Walt Disney World," in honor of his brother and his vision.
In , the last two films Walt actively followed were released: The s opened with the release of Disney's first "post-Walt" animated feature, The Aristocats , followed by a return to fantasy musicals in 's Bedknobs and Broomsticks. On October 1, , Walt Disney World opened to the public, with Roy Disney dedicating the facility in person later that month. Theatrical malaise and new leadership While Walt Disney Productions continued releasing family-friendly films throughout the s, such as Escape to Witch Mountain and Freaky Friday , the films did not fare as well at the box office as earlier material.
Inspired by the popularity of Star Wars, the Disney studio produced the science-fiction adventure The Black Hole in In , Disney has joined venture with Paramount Pictures on the production of the film adaptation of Popeye, which was a critical failure, yet a moderate box office success. Disney joined with Paramount again in the fantasy epic Dragonslayer , which was more mature than anything Disney was ever involved with at the time, though it was a box office failure.
Touchstone's first release was the comedy Splash , which was a box office success. With The Wonderful World of Disney remaining a prime-time staple, Disney returned to television in the s with syndicated programing such as the anthology series The Mouse Factory and a brief revival of the Mickey Mouse Club.
In , Disney launched Walt Disney Home Video to take advantage of the newly-emerging videocassette market. On April 18, , the Disney Channel debuted as a subscription-level channel on cable systems nationwide, featuring its large library of classic films and TV series, along with original programming and family-friendly third-party offerings. Walt Disney World received much of the company's attention through the s and into the s. Inspired by Walt Disney's dream of a futuristic model city, EPCOT Center was built as a "permanent World's Fair", complete with exhibits sponsored by major American corporations, as well as pavilions based on the cultures of other nations.
Despite the success of the Disney Channel and its new theme park creations, Walt Disney Productions was financially vulnerable. Its film library was valuable but offered few current successes, and its leadership team was unable to keep up with other studios, particularly the works of Don Bluth , who defected from Disney in In , financier Saul Steinberg launched a hostile takeover bid for Walt Disney Productions, with the intent of selling off its various assets.
Its shareholders Sid Bass and Roy E. Miller in and strengthen the company. During the second half of the s and early s, Disney revitalized. Beginning with Who Framed Roger Rabbit , and later, The Little Mermaid , its flagship animation studio enjoyed a series of commercial and critical successes.
In addition, the company successfully entered the field of television animation with a number of lavishly budgeted and acclaimed series such as Adventures of the Gummi Bears , DuckTales and Gargoyles. During the early part of the s, Eisner and his partners set out to plan "The Disney Decade" which was to feature new parks around the world, existing park expansions, new films, and new media investments.
While some of the proposals did follow through, most did not. Wells died in a helicopter crash in The Lion King , which went on to become the most successful hand-drawn animated picture of all time, was dedicated to his memory.
The Ovitz episode engendered a long-running derivative suit, which finally concluded in June , almost 10 years later. Chandler, III of the Delaware Court of Chancery, despite describing Eisner's behavior as falling "far short of what shareholders expect and demand from those entrusted with a fiduciary position Disney , the son of Disney co-founder Roy O.
Disney and nephew of Walt Disney , resigned from his positions as the company's vice chairman and chairman of Walt Disney Feature Animation , accusing Eisner of micromanagement, flops with the ABC television network, timidity in the theme park business, turning the Walt Disney Company into a "rapacious, soul-less" company, and refusing to establish a clear succession plan, as well as a string of box-office movie flops starting in the year Disney's board then gave the chairmanship position to Mitchell.
However, the board did not immediately remove Eisner as chief executive. On March 13 , , Eisner announced that he would step down as CEO one year before his contract expired.
On September 30, Eisner resigned both as an executive and as a member of the board of directors, and, severing all formal ties with the company, he waived his contractual rights to perks such as the use of a corporate jet and an office at the company's Burbank headquarters. Eisner's replacement was his longtime assistant, Robert Iger.