Walt Disney. Photo Credit: The Walt Disney Co.

One of the most well-known brands in history, The Walt Disney Co. (NYSE:DIS), has been a delight for both consumers and investors for much of the last century. But to really understand the company's unique past and its future opportunities, it's important to know the story behind the entrepreneur who made it all happen.

How the entrepreneur got his start
Elias Walt Disney was not only the film producer that he is most famous for being, but was also a director, screenwriter, actor and voice actor, animator, and also quite a major philanthropist. But it all started with a love of character art.

Walt was born in 1901 near Chicago, and as a child developed a passion for art and drawing that he cultivated in high school. After attending art college (as well as spending a year in France with the Red Cross) he decided to turn his passion into a business, and his first noteworthy success in the entertainment industry came when he created "Laugh-o-grams," animated shorts that he could sell.

Even though this first company ended up going bankrupt, the ideas and experience would eventually lead to Walt's next success. He moved to California with the help of his brother and started creating and selling animated features. Walt would eventually hire an ink artist, Lillian Bounds, who would later become his wife. This group of animators would eventually become the basis of the Disney we know and love today. 

The House of Mouse grows
One of Walt Disney's first characters was called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Unfortunately, the character was taken from Disney after some copyright oversights on Disney's part. However this led Walt to create a new and even better character, and inspiration came from the rodent that lived in his office in Kansas city.

Mickey Mouse eventually came to life; that was the name Walt's wife got him to agree to over Mortimer Mouse. Disney would go on to create Silly Symphonies in 1929, including the rest of the gang like Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto. The Mouse empire was born. 

Shortly thereafter his studio received its first Oscar award, and by 1937 it created the first ever full-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, earning an incredible $1.5 million (very large at the time despite the depression) and winning 8 Oscars.  

Walt Disney's key innovations
While Disney's huge industry first successes might seem to have come from artistry alone, that was only half of the battle. Walt Disney was also an incredible entrepreneur. Here are just a few of his biggest innovations:

  • First to make a feature length animated film -- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first full-length film of its kind and would start a chain of incredibly successful movies. 
  • Color technology -- Disney's technology putting color in its films was far ahead of the industry at that time. 
  • Better sound -- The robust sound and synchronization helped to further develop sound in movies  
  • Making TV its own medium -- Zorro and Davy Crockett TV series were among the first widely successful shows, but it was The Mickey Mouse Club that set Disney apart. 
  • Creating technologically innovative theme parks -- Disney created his first park, Disneyland, back in 1955 and it quickly became the most popular theme park in the world. 

One of the most successful companies of the 21st century
Walt Disney had a widely successful career. He died of lung cancer in 1966 at the age of 65, but he left behind a beloved legacy as well as a company that continues to flourish and innovate. 

Disney's movies, TV media segment, theme parks, and consumer products are all leading to even more massive profits today than Walt himself probably ever imagined. Through his pioneering vision, innovations, management, and the characters he created, The Walt Disney Co. has continued to grow to nearly $200 billion market cap.