The Crash That Didn't Matter and the Start of Disney's TV Empire

On this day in economic and business history ...

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) suffered one of the worst declines in its history on Oct. 27, 1997. The 554-point drop, which shaved 7.2% off the index's value, was at the time the largest point decline ever, and it was so ferocious that marketwide circuit-breakers -- installed after the brutal Black Monday crash of 1987 -- kicked into action for the first time ever after a decade of dormancy. Some $660 billion in market capitalization was lost in the drop, even though trading was twice halted, and the trading day ultimately ended half an hour early for the New York Stock Exchange.

American markets followed their Asian counterparts into the red zone as a result of the financial crisis then roiling many Southeast Asian nations. Many Asian nations suffered currency devaluations and soaring private debt during this period, but U.S. officials asked for calm. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin noted after the end of trading that "it is important to remember that the fundamentals of the United States economy are strong ... and the prospects for continued growth, with low inflation and low unemployment, are strong." White House spokesman Mike McCurry pointed out that "the market has taken breathtaking drops in the past, so let's just be calm and reasonable."

These reassurances proved prescient, despite worries that "Asian contagion" would infect American markets. The Dow recovered nearly half its losses on the following trading day, and a year after this steep decline it was 17% higher. The index continued to grow until the start of the new millennium, but even at the lowest ebb of its post-dot-com bear market, the Dow never fell below the 7161.14 points it closed at on Oct. 27, 1997. Circuit-breakers, which originally activated in response to large point-based declines, are now set to trigger only in the event of a catastrophic percentage drop.

The arteries of the city
The Interborough Rapid Transit system, popularly known as the subway, opened to New York City's populace on Oct. 27, 1904. It wasn't the first metropolitan subway system in the world -- London's proto-underground system had operated since the 1860s -- but it was the most modern system, and it immediately became the most popular such transit network in the world. New Yorkers greeted their new transportation network with open arms. The New York Times headlined its front-page coverage with the simple headline of "Our Subway Open: 150,000 Try It."

For the first time in his life, Father Knickerbocker went underground yesterday, went underground he and his children, to the number of 150,000, amid the tooting of whistles and the firing of salutes, for a first ride in a subway which for years had been scoffed at as an impossibility. New York's dream of rapid transit became a reality at exactly 2:35:30 o'clock yesterday afternoon, when the running of trains with passengers began.

With a silver controller Mayor McClellan started the first train, the official train, which bore John B. McDonald, the contractor who dug the subway; William Barclay Parsons, Chief Engineer of the Rapid Transit Commission, and most of the other men who made the subway a possibility and a reality.

The Mayor liked his job as motorman so well that he stayed at the controller until the train reached Broadway and One Hundred and Third Street, when he yielded the place to the company's motor instructor.

In 1904, despite an overwhelming crush of interest that caused lines to snake out of subway entrances for blocks, 274 riders used the subway for every one resident of New York City. By 1914, this number soared to 343 riders per resident -- an astounding 1.75 billion passengers used the city's subways that year. Persistent overcrowding became a fact of life for the city's subway riders; this new underground transit network was simply too important to avoid.

The success of the New York City subway spawned global interest, but it wasn't until after World War II that subways became common throughout the world. There are approximately 140 metropolitan subway systems operating in the world's cities, and nearly 48 billion riders pass through the kiosks of these subways of the world every year.

Disney hits the small screen
The first Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) television program, Disneyland, premiered on ABC on Oct. 27, 1954. This program, as its title might indicate, was primarily designed as a marketing campaign for the as-yet-unopened Disneyland theme park, and this cross-promotion also brought in ABC as an investor in the Disneyland theme park. Disneyland's first episode, "The Disneyland Story," introduced millions of viewers to Disney's Californian getaway, featuring a documentarian look at the construction process and the soon-to-be-available rides. It also gave viewers a condensed look at several Disney feature films and older short cartoons.

These humble beginnings launched the longest-running weekly broadcast program in primetime history, which ran for more than 40 consecutive years and eventually aired more than 1,200 episodes. It also laid the foundations for Disney's television empire, which eventually encompassed the ABC network itself after a 1995 acquisition. Today, Disney not only owns the ABC broadcast network, but it also owns five ESPN cable networks and six varieties of the Disney Channel (three domestic and three international) and holds a half-stake in the A&E television networks, which includes A&E, Lifetime, and the History Channel. Its cable and broadcasting holdings earned Disney more than $19 billion in revenue for the 2012 fiscal year.

Disney's next big battle
The future of television begins now -- with an all-out $2.2 trillion media war that pits cable companies such as Cox, Comcast, and Time Warner against technology giants such as Apple, Google, and Netflix. The Motley Fool's shocking video presentation reveals the secret Steve Jobs took to his grave, and explains why the only real winners are these three content-rich power players that film your favorite shows. Disney's in the driver's seat, but you don't want to miss out on two peers that are creating entertainment empires of their own. Click here to watch today!


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