The Walt Disney Company, founded by Walter Elias Disney and his brother Roy in 1923, is perhaps the world's most recognized brand. With more than $30 billion in annual sales, it's also the world's largest media company. Disney's numerous innovations include animated cartoons with synchronized sound tracks, the first full-length animated feature film, and theme parks such as Disneyland, Disney World, and Epcot Center.
Walt Disney's story of success is one that many entrepreneurs can relate to and often strive to replicate. As Disney said, "Always remember that this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse." Here's how he turned his dream into a kingdom.
Disney started drawing during his childhood to escape a less than idyllic home life. He joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps at the age of 16 and was stationed in France. When he returned, he moved to Kansas City to begin his career as an artist. While working at Kansas City Film Ad Company, Disney became interested in animation and decided to open his own animation company.
The company failed due to Disney's inability to manage the finances, but Disney persevered, continuing to believe in himself and in his dream. He teamed up with his brother, who took care of the financial side of the business and the two moved to Hollywood to found Disney Brothers' Studio.
But there would still be stumbling blocks. The studio created the popular Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon character for Universal, but when Disney requested an increase in budget, producer Charles B. Mintz instead hired away most of Disney's animators and took over production of the cartoon in his own studio. Universal owned the character's trademark, so there was little Disney could do.
After the Oswald fiasco, Disney set about creating a new cartoon character to replace Oswald. That character became one of the most recognizable symbols in the world: Mickey Mouse.
Taking a Risk
After the success of Mickey Mouse, Disney released his first animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in 1937. It was a risky move for Disney. Three years in the making and shot entirely in Technicolor, which at the time was a new, expensive technology, Snow White was regarded by many as a foolish mistake.
Disney believed in his film and even sought a loan to complete production when the studio ran out of money. The gamble paid off, Snow White became the most successful film of 1938, and Disney never looked back.
Much of what Disney sold was the concept of the happy family and an idyllic life. It provided an escape from the drudgery of everyday hustle along with good, clean, family entertainment. Throughout his life, Disney never missed an opportunity to market the Walt Disney Company whether it was through cartoons, animated feature films, the company logo, promotional merchandise, or eventually the mega theme parks that attract millions of visitors every year.
Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, living long enough to see Disneyland, his first theme park, open in Anaheim, CA, in 1955, but before the "Magic Kingdom" at Walt Disney World, opened in Orlando, FL, in 1971.
The Disney Company went on to open Epcot Center in 1982 and several other theme parks, including Paris's Euro Disney in 1992 and Hong Kong Disneyland in 2005. The Walt Disney Family Museum is scheduled to open in Fall 2009.
Today, The Walt Disney Company is the largest media and entertainment company in the world and owns ABC and ESPN in addition to Disney Studios and theme parks.