The Walt Disney Company, commonly known as Walt Disney or simply Disney (//), is an American diversified multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate, headquartered at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. It is the world's largest independent media conglomerate in terms of revenue ahead of NBCUniversal and WarnerMedia, which are owned by telecommunications giants Comcast and AT&T respectively. The company that bears the Walt Disney Company name today was formed on January 5, 1996 by the merger between the original Walt Disney Company and Capital Cities/ABC Inc.. The former of which was founded on October 16, 1923 – by brothers Walt and Roy Disney – as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, and established itself as a leader in the American animation industry before diversifying into live-action film production, television, and theme parks. The company also operated under the names The Walt Disney Studio and then Walt Disney Productions and for a short period Disney Enterprises until changing its official name to The Walt Disney Company in 1986. The latter of which being founded on April 5, 1946 in Albany, New York, and being best-known for its purchase of the much larger ABC network. The merged company has since expanded its existing operations and also started divisions focused upon the theater, radio, music, publishing and online media industries.
Since their merger with ABC, Disney has created and acquired corporate divisions in order to market more mature content than is typically associated with its flagship family-oriented brands. The company is best known for the products of its film studio, Walt Disney Studios, which is today one of the largest and best-known studios in American cinema. Disney's other three main divisions are Walt Disney Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products, Disney Media Networks, and Disney Direct-to-Consumer and International. Disney also owns and operates the ABC broadcast network; cable television networks such as Disney Channel, ESPN, A&E Networks, and Freeform; publishing, merchandising, music, and theater divisions; and owns and licenses Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, a group of 14 theme parks around the world.
The company has been a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average since 1991. Mickey Mouse, a cartoon created in 1928, is the signature mascot and emblem for Disney, and one of the world's most recognizable characters.
In early 1923, Kansas City, Missouri, animator Walt Disney created a short film entitled Alice's Wonderland, which featured child actress Virginia Davis interacting with animated characters. After the bankruptcy in 1923 of his previous firm, Laugh-O-Gram Studio,[ChWDC 1] Disney moved to Hollywood to join his brother, Roy O. Disney. Film distributor Margaret J. Winkler of M.J. Winkler Productions contacted Disney with plans to distribute a whole series of Alice Comedies purchased for $1,500 per reel with Disney as a production partner. Walt and Roy Disney formed Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio that same year. More animated films followed after Alice. In January 1926, with the completion of the Disney studio on Hyperion Street, the Disney Brothers Studio's name was changed to the Walt Disney Studio.[ChWDC 2]
After the demise of the Alice comedies, Disney developed an all-cartoon series starring his first original character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, which was distributed by Winkler Pictures through Universal Pictures.[ChWDC 2] The distributor owned Oswald, so Disney only made a few hundred dollars. Disney completed 26 Oswald shorts before losing the contract in February 1928, due to a legal loophole, when Winkler's husband Charles Mintz took over their distribution company. After failing to take over the Disney Studio, Mintz hired away four of Disney's primary animators (the exception being Ub Iwerks) to start his own animation studio, Snappy Comedies.[ChWDC 3]
In 1928, to recover from the loss of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Disney came up with the idea of a mouse character named Mortimer while on a train headed to California, drawing up a few simple drawings. The mouse was later renamed Mickey Mouse (Disney's wife, Lillian, disliked the sound of 'Mortimer Mouse') and starred in several Disney produced films. Ub Iwerks refined Disney's initial design of Mickey Mouse. Disney's first sound film Steamboat Willie, a cartoon starring Mickey, was released on November 18, 1928[ChWDC 3] through Pat Powers' distribution company. It was the first Mickey Mouse sound cartoon released, but the third to be created, behind Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho.[ChWDC 3] Steamboat Willie was an immediate smash hit, and its initial success was attributed not just to Mickey's appeal as a character, but to the fact that it was the first cartoon to feature synchronized sound. Disney used Pat Powers' Cinephone system, created by Powers using Lee de Forest's Phonofilm system.[ChWDC 3] Steamboat Willie premiered at B. S. Moss's Colony Theater in New York City, now The Broadway Theatre. Disney's Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho were then retrofitted with synchronized sound tracks and re-released successfully in 1929.[ChWDC 3]