Although it is now one of the largest corporations in the world, the Walt Disney Company started as a small animation studio in the garage of Walt and Roy Disney’s grandfather. This tiny venture was founded on October 16, 1923 – and in 2006, Walt Disney’s company had grown to revenues of $34.3 billion.
The first project the Disney brothers worked on was a series entitled Alice’s Wonderland, and in 1925, Walt Disney convinced his brother to rename the studio to Walt Disney Studios. After several smaller successes and failures, the first Mickey Mouse cartoons Plane Crazy and Steamboat Willie were released to audiences in 1928. As it was the first cartoon with sound to achieve popularity, Walt Disney was able to expand his ventures a year later into three additional companies: Walt Disney Enterprises, Disney Film Recording Company, and Liled Realty and Investment Company.
Over the next several years, what would become some of Disney’s most beloved characters were introduced: Pluto in 1930, Goofy in 1932, and Donald Duck in 1934. It was in 1937 that the studio’s first feature-length animation film was released, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and it made history books by being the first animated feature film ever produced. The next year, Walt Disney merged all of his companies under one title, Walt Disney Productions, and in 1940 the production house released both Pinocchio and Fantasia.
As the studio began to grow, the United States’ foray into World War II caused a slowdown in film production as Disney was instead contracted to create morale-boosting government propaganda. The next 10 years were relatively slow for Disney, and films created were solely low budget or took years to produce – Bambi was in production for 6 years before its theatrical release. In 1950, the company was revived with the release of Cinderella, and 1952 saw Walt Disney begin to plan the Walt Disney Productions theme park.
It wasn’t until 1967 that work actually began on the theme park, though it had certainly helped that the company went public ten years prior. The Walt Disney World Resort opened in Orlando, Florida in 1971, and Disney began to make its foray into live-action films. Although there were many ups and downs in the years following Walt’s death, the company continued to make a name for itself and forge ahead to new grounds. While there have been plenty of roadblocks in the new millennium – such as the controversy over CEO Michael Eisner’s policies and several hostile bid takeover attempts – the company has managed to push through to continue holding its place as one of the largest and most influential companies on the planet.