On this day in economic and business history ...
Happy birthday, Donald Duck! Disney's (NYSE:DIS) second-favorite animated son first appeared in the Silly Symphonies short "The Wise Little Hen," which was released on June 9, 1934. Although frequently overshadowed by Mickey Mouse in the Disney pantheon, Donald Duck has actually appeared in more films than any other Disney character, with 178 theatrical credits. Donald Duck is also one of the world's most popular comic-book characters, behind only Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and Wolverine. Donald's three nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, also outrank Mickey on the comic-book list, and Donald's wealthy uncle Scrooge McDuck comes in right behind Disney's top mouse as well.
Donald Duck's popularity was assured during World War II, when the character became Disney's chief anti-Nazi propagandist, which won Disney an Oscar for the animated short "Der Fuehrer's Face" -- the only Disney short to win a wartime Oscar:
After the war, Donald and his relatives took up residence in Duckburg, the fictional city that continues to be extraordinarily popular in Europe, which is primarily the reason for Donald and Scrooge's high ranking on today's comic-book lists. The fictional "duck universe" of Duckburg is also notable for giving legions of financial writers easy metaphors for wealth, thanks to Scrooge McDuck's over-the-top money bin. Scrooge's massive gold hoard consistently earns him a spot on the Forbes list of wealthiest fictional characters -- although the plutocratic fowl lost his rank (and his fortune) in 2012 thanks to an ill-advised all-or-nothing bet on a round-the-world race with rival Flintheart Glomgold. That's one financial strategy aspiring Scrooge McDucks shouldn't take to heart.
Banking in a new nation
The Bank of New York first opened its doors on June 9, 1784. It wasn't the first bank in the United States -- the Bank of North America had a two-year head start -- but it was the first bank in New York City, which would soon become the financial heart of the new nation. Alexander Hamilton, using the experience gained from his integral role in establishing the Bank of North America, became the founder of the Bank of New York and would be chiefly responsible for its early growth and success. He focused the bank on specie (gold and silver) holdings, rather than on land-based collateral, which was popular at the time. This decision gave the bank the strong capital foundation it would need to help backstop the new nation as it began to stand on its own.
Eight years after its founding, the Bank of New York became one of the first five stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange -- now part of NYSE Euronext (UNKNOWN:UNKNOWN) -- when that organization began under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street in 1792. It was the first listed company on the NYSE and is the oldest continuously traded company in the United States -- it still operates today as BNY Mellon (NYSE:BK), after merging with Mellon Financial in 2007.
The end of an era
General Electric (NYSE:GE) completed its absorption of RCA on June 9, 1986. The $6.4 billion deal was, at the time, the largest non-oil acquisition in American history, and it would create a company with combined revenues of nearly $40 billion per year. It was a fittingly massive reunion between one of the world's largest industrial concerns and the radio subsidiary it had created in 1919. GE held at least some control of RCA until 1930, when the conglomerate fully divested its radio assets.
RCA was perhaps the single hottest "tech" stock of the Roaring '20s, as its rise from $1 per share in 1921 to $573 in 1929 resembled the meteoric growth of many dot-com darlings decades later. RCA also resembled some of those dot-com darlings in its ill-timed addition to the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI). It joined GE on the index in 1928 and remained until 1932 -- just long enough to contribute more to the Dow's collapse than it did to its rise. This was only the second example of one component owning another on the Dow. After the crash, RCA helped pioneer and popularize television, the medium that eventually pushed radio to the fringes of American life. To avoid obsolescence, RCA invested heavily in television, including both the manufacture of TV sets and the production of broadcast programs through its NBC subsidiary.
Little remains of RCA today. NBC was the only significant RCA asset GE held onto for any length of time following the merger. The last of GE's stake in this broadcasting company passed to Comcast in early 2013, when the media giant bought the remaining 49% GE had held since a complex buyout deal was first put forth in 2009.
Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter, @TMFBiggles, for more insight into markets, history, and technology.
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