Today, with a market capitalization of $122.5 billion and revenue of nearly $42.3 billion as of 2012, The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) is the largest media conglomerate in the world. However, this wasn't always the case. The company, which was founded in 1923, began as a small operation that would eventually transform into the giant that it is today. To celebrate the company's standing as the creme de la creme of media, I thought it only fitting to write an article about three things you probably didn't know about it.
Walt was wrong; it didn't start with a mouse
Most people who are fans of Disney will likely recall Walt Disney's famous saying: "I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing-that it was all started by a mouse". Although it is true that the company's early success came about as a result of the introduction of Mickey Mouse, it's far from true that Disney's work started with the mouse.
Prior to Mickey Mouse's public debut in Steamboat Willie in 1928, Disney worked on two other major projects, one based on Alice in Wonderland and the other on Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald, Disney's first original character, achieved commercial success in 1927. However, frustrated at the fact that he would receive only 20% of all proceeds from the films, he quit and eventually developed today's beloved Mickey Mouse character with the collaboration of Ub Iwerks.
Interestingly, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit served as one of the first major animated films of Universal Studios, a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA) through its ownership in NBCUniversal. Although the venture proved profitable for the company, it failed to give it a strong foothold in the animation industry as Mickey Mouse quickly surpassed Oswald's success. Furthermore, in an attempt to settle a contract dispute involving Al Michaels moving from Disney to NBC, the company sold nearly all of its Oswald rights to Disney in 2006.
Disney had a predecessor
Prior to starting Disney, Walt set up and ran another animation studio. In 1922, Walt founded Laugh-O-Gram Films with an initial $15,000 investment. Their primary function was to produce fairy tale cartoons for Pictorial Clubs. Despite this profitable contract, which brought in $11,000 for the studio, the company struggled to pay its bills. In 1923 it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy following the collapse of Pictorial Clubs.
However, before the studio was shut down Laugh-O-Gram successfully produced two other projects; Tommy Tucker's Tooth and Alice's Wonderland. The first film talked about the virtues of brushing your teeth and the negative consequences if you don't care for them properly. The second film, Alice's Wonderland, came about as a result of Walt reinvesting the $500 he had made from Tommy Tucker's Tooth. It was this second film that would lead to the earliest commercial success for Disney's Alice Comedies.
The original location of Laugh-O-Gram, which is located in Kansas City, Missouri and which served as the birthplace of Mickey Mouse, fell into disrepair after many years. However, in recent years a non-profit group named "Thank You, Walt Disney" in collaboration with Disney has worked to restore the building and turn it into a museum and education center focusing on animation.
Disney's involvement in World War II
Like Hershey (NYSE:HSY), Disney was also a big supporter of the World War II effort. Throughout the war, Hershey provided ration bars for soldiers and rescued prisoners of war. However, the company also played another big part in the war effort. As the economy became more focused on the production of war-related equipment, Hershey used its machine shops to build parts for the Navy's antiaircraft guns.
Disney, though equally active in supporting the war effort, did so in a very different way. Instead of building military grade equipment and adding to the country's rations as Hershey did, Disney set about developing training and propaganda films at the behest of the U.S. and Canadian governments. This endeavor was so large that by 1942, 90% of the studio's 550 employees were working on war-related films. These included Victory Through Air Power, as well as the Academy Award-winning film titled Der Fuehrer's Face.
As we can see from these interesting facts above, Disney has been far more than a large, profitable studio and theme park. More importantly than anything else, the company has been a large contributor to history and culture in the United States and abroad. It has built for itself a name and legacy that likely won't be forgotten, all while providing endless hours of entertainment for millions upon millions of individuals.