The Walt Disney World Company has become one of the largest media and entertainment companies in the world, despite having humble beginnings that were led by just one man who had big dreams. It is known both for its films and for its leisure resorts and facilities that are located across the world.
Many of the Disney characters have become household names in their own rights and the resorts are some of the most popular destinations and attractions in the world. There are very few people, regardless of their age or location, who have not seen at least one Disney cartoon, television program or movie.
Although most people know there are Disney World resorts and that Disney is involved in the production of movies, there are many facts that people do not know about this company.
Here are 20 fun facts you probably didn’t know about The Walt Disney Company.
1. It Was Founded in 1923
The Walt Disney Company has a long and interesting history that spans almost 80 years. It was founded by brothers Walt Disney and Roy O. Disney on October 16, 1923. Originally, the company was called ‘Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio’.
At first, they established themselves in the animation industry before extending their interests to producing live-action films. This business has also operated using the names ‘The Walt Disney Studio’ and ‘Walt Disney Productions’.
It didn’t take on its current name until 1986. Prior to establishing The Walt Disney Company, Walt Disney had already owned a firm called the ‘Laugh-O-Gram Studio’ which had gone bankrupt in the same year as he founded his new company.
2. Walt Disney’s First Film was ‘Alice’s Wonderland’
During the earlier stages of his career, Walt Disney concentrated on creating short animations. He later decided to become more adventurous in his creations and wanted to create a short film that combined animation with real actors.
The first short film created by Walt Disney when he founded his company was ‘Alice’s Wonderland’. The child actress Virginia Davis starred as Alice in this short film in which she interacted with a range of animated characters created by animator Walt Disney.
It was the creation of this film which led to Walt moving to Hollywood to be close to his brother, Roy, so the pair could start their business. Their intention was to produce a series of ‘Alice Comedies’ in collaboration with film distributor M.J. Winkler Productions.
3. The First Disney Character Was a Rabbit
Many people mistakenly believe that Mickey Mouse was the first original character that was created by Walt Disney as it is for this character which he is usually associated and best-known.
However, the actual first original character he created was a rabbit called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. This character appeared in a series of silent cartoons until 1928 when Walt Disney lost the contract with the distributor due to a legal loophole. It was then that Walt Disney created Mortimer Mouse.
His wife disliked the name he had chosen for the character, so it was renamed Mickey Mouse. This character is now the most famous of all the Disney characters and the one that the most visitors want to meet during a trip to the theme parks and resorts.
In 2006, The Walt Disney Company bought back the rights for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from NBC Universal in a deal that included both the intellectual property to the character and all 26 of the cartoons that were created by Walt Disney.
4. They Produced the First Feature Length Animation Film
In 1937, Walt Disney took a huge risk when he produced the world’s first feature-length animation film, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’.
Not only did he not know how well this type of feature film would be received, it also required a production budget of $1.49million. While compared to today’s production budgets this may seem a small amount of money, at that time this was a huge sum of money and spending such a large amount was almost unheard of in the film industry.
Many film critics were skeptical about the project and even labeled it ‘Disney’s Folly. However, his gamble paid off as the film was both a critical and commercial success. It grossed $66 million after its initial release.
When it was re-released in 1983, 1987, and 1993, the total gross figure increased to $185 million. When these figures are adjusted for inflation, the box office total is $885 million. This puts it in 10th position of the highest grossing domestic films of all-time.
5. Many Movies Have Exceeded the $1 Billion Dollar Mark at the Box Office
Reaching the $1 billion box office mark is considered a huge achievement in the film industry. This is something that The Walt Disney Company has now achieved on six occasions.
The first of their films to reach this landmark figure was the 2006 adventure film ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest’ which grossed $1.066 billion at the worldwide box office. They next achieved this figure in 2010 with ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as this grossed $1.026 billion. In the same year, ‘Toy Story 3’ grossed $1.063 billion.
They eclipsed the $1 billion marker again with ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ which grossed $1.046 billion in 2011. The following year, Marvel’s ‘The Avengers’ grossed $1.519 billion. Next to reach the achievement was ‘Iron Man 3’ as it grossed $1.215 billion in 2013. Finally, ‘Frozen’ grossed $1.274 billion in 2013.
And the hits kept on coming. More Avengers movies. "Infinity War" is one of the highest grossing films of all-time.
6. Twice Exceeded $4 Billion at the Box Office in a Calendar Year
Another milestone figure that companies in the film industry try to achieve is $4 billion in a calendar year. On November 25, 2013, The Walt Disney Company exceeded $4 billion in box office receipts in one calendar year for the first time.
The two movies which contributed the most to this were ‘Monster’s University’, which grossed $744 million, and ‘Iron Man 3’, which grossed $1.215 billion.
They achieved the milestone again on November 16, 2014. ‘Maleficent’, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ all grossed over $700 million each that year. Much of the financial success Walt Disney Company gained from these movies was down to the fact that they acquired Pixar, LucasFilms, and Marvel Studios.
7. The First Disney World Resort Was in California
Although Disney World in Orlando, Florida, is often considered the main Disney theme park, it wasn’t the first. The first theme park and resort created by Walt Disney was Disneyland in Anaheim in California.
This is now Disneyland Park and Disneyland Resort. Walt Disney was directly involved in the building and supervision of this theme park. As a father, he enjoyed spending time with his daughters at amusement parks during the 1930s and 1940s. He wanted to create his own amusement park so that children and parents could have fun together.
Initially, he wanted to do this at a site next to his studios in Burbank, but the site was too small. Instead, he purchased a 160-acre site near Anaheim and construction of the park began in 1954. It first opened to the public on July 17, 1955, and this was an event that was televised on ABC Television Network.
This theme park was the first to use its own monorail system to transport visitors from one part of the theme park to another. It is now one of the most visited attractions in the world and has played host to over 650 million visitors since it first opened.
8. Bob Iger is the Current CEO, and Chairman
Robert A. Iger is the current chief executive officer and chairman of The Walt Disney Company. He has been a CEO since 2005 and a Chairman since 2012. He is also a former President as he held this position in the company between 2000 and 2012.
Iger was the eight and final President of the company while the first was Walt Disney who retained this position form 1923 until 1945. Walt was succeeded in the position by his brother Roy O. Disney from 1945 to 1966. Others who have held this position include Donn Tatum, Card Walker, Ron W. Miller, Frank Wells and Michael Ovitz.
Prior to working for Disney, Bob Iger was the president of ABC Television from 1994 to 1995 and then the chief operating officer for Capital Cities/ ABC, Inc. He worked for this company from 1995 until he was acquired by Disney in 1996.
9. Their Headquarters Are in California
Although Walt Disney is originally from Chicago, Illinois, he started his first business in Kansas, Missouri. When this went bankrupt, he moved to Hollywood to start a new business with his brother and the pair opened up a studio on Hypertension Street.
Although this was the first official location of the Walt Disney Studios, there were several more in various locations across Los Angeles before the company moved to its current headquarters.
In 1940, the business was moved to the new Walt Disney Studios at 500 South Buena Vista Street in Burbank, California. This is now home to the major studios and the corporate headquarters of the company.
10. They Acquired Pixar in 2006
The Walt Disney Company has made many acquisitions over the years and this has contributed to the company’s expansion and to the level of financial success they have achieved.
One of its biggest acquisitions was that of Pixar in 2006. This company was originally a Graphics Group that was founded in 1979 as part of the LucasFilm computer division.
It then became a corporation in 1986 using funding from Steve Jobs who was a majority shareholder. Disney purchased the company for $7.4 billion in 2006 and this led to Steve Jobs becoming the largest single shareholder. Pixar is best-known for its CGI-animated feature films.
11. They Acquired Marvel Entertainment in 2009
Another of Disney’s big acquisitions was when they acquired Marvel Entertainment for $4.24 billion. Disney announced this acquisition deal on August 31, 2009, and the deal was completed by December 31, 2009.
Marvel Entertainment is the parent company of Marvel Worldwide. Marvel was originally established in 1939 as Timely Publications. It then became known as Atlas Comics during the 1950s. The brand didn’t become known as Marvel until 1961.
At this time, the company was still only a comic book business that predominantly published superhero comics. Once Marvel was part of the Disney conglomerate unit, they began to collaborate with other Disney conglomerate opponents.
The success of films linked to Marvel has become a commercial advantage to The Walt Disney Company meaning that making this acquisition was a good decision.
12. They Acquired LucasFilm in 2012
LucasFilm was founded in 1971 by famous filmmaker George Lucas. This film and television production company was best-known for creating and producing the ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Star Wars’ franchises.
It became a leader within the film industry in the field of special effects, audio, and film computer animation. George Lucas and Bob Iger were talking in 2011 and Lucas revealed that he was considering retirement and planned to sell off his company and the ‘Star Wars’ franchise.
This led to further talks between Disney and LucasFilm with regards to a possible acquisition deal. In 2012, The Walt Disney Company acquired LucasFilm for $4.06 billion, making it one of the top three acquisitions based on expenditure. The deal included ownership of LucasFilm’s operating businesses, and both the ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Indiana Jones’ franchises.
The two companies had formerly collaborated on creating theme park attractions through the Walt Disney Imagineering division. Following the acquisition, former co-chairman Kathleen Kennedy was promoted to president of LucasFilms and also serves as the Star Wars brand manager.
13. Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort is the Largest Resort in the World
Of all the Disney parks and resorts, it is Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, which is the largest. The site covers 25,000 acres and includes four theme parks; Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom. It also includes Fort Wilderness, which provides a camping area of 800 campsites and a recreational area.
There are 18 hotels within the resort that have a total of 23,000 rooms, 468,000 square feet of conference meeting space, and 3,000 vacation club units. Not only is this the largest of the Disney theme parks and resorts, it is also the most visited.
14. Admission Prices at Magic Kingdom Have Increased Annually with the Exception of Three Years
Each year, the price of admission to the Magic Kingdom has gradually increased in line with inflation. There have been three exceptions to this rule. The prices remained the same in 1976, 1977, and 1988.
These were the years that directly followed a recession as the stock market crashes of 1973 and 1974 led to economic problems in the United States until 1975. A similar situation occurred in 1987. As a result of the economic situation, bosses at the Magic Kingdom decided to leave the admission prices as they were.
Although the prices have gradually risen, there are many offers and deals for visitors who book in advance, book through certain companies, or buy multiple tickets to the different theme parks and resorts owned by the company. Prices also change throughout the year according to holiday seasons as there are peak times of the year when Disney has increased numbers of visitors.
15. There Was Almost a Walt Disney Ski Resort
After opening his first park and resort in 1955, Walt Disney was so delighted with what he had achieved that he started to consider other leisure attractions and resorts. He intended to open a ski resort in California. It was intended to accommodate 20,000 skiers and the site chosen was close to Sequoia National Park.
He had even begun to make plans for this resort, including securing a roads deal with the Governor of California and acquiring the approval of Forest Service. After Walt Disney died in 1966, those in position of responsibility at the company decided no to go ahead with the ski resort.
Instead, they opted to focus on completing the Walt Disney World project. This was an ambitious plan and the park was not completed until 1971.
16. The Most Profitable Segment of Disney is Media Networks
Overall, Disney is an extremely profitable company. In 2017, this company had an operating income of $55.137 billion and a net income of $8.98 billion. Of all the different elements of the business, Media Networks is the most profitable segment of The Walt Disney Company.
This segment encompasses the Disney Channels, the ABC Family and stakes in a wide range of other television networks. For example, it owns 50% of networks including The Biography Channel, three Lifetime Channels, H2, The History Channel, A&E, and Lifetime Movie Network.
It also owns 80% of ESPN. In 2014, this segment of the business had a fiscal year revenue of $21.2 billion and an operating income of $7.3 billion.
And let's not forget about their streaming service.
17. They Have an Interactive Gaming Business
Interactive gaming is an ever-increasing business and The Walt Disney Company wanted to get in on the act. However, this was an area of the business that had struggled and made huge losses.
In 2012, this segment of the business made an operating loss of $87 million and things deteriorated the following year when they made an operating loss of $216 million.
Their fortunes changed when they released the ‘Disney Infinity’ game in August 2013. This game franchise almost single-handedly changed their operating figures from a loss to a profit. As a result of launching this game franchise, the operating profit of 2014 was $116 million.
18. Roy E. Disney Was the Last Disney Family Member Actively Involved in the Company
Roy E. Disney was the son of Roy Oliver Disney and the nephew of Walt Disney. He was the last member of the Disney family who was actively involved in the company.
Roy was the instigator of the first ‘Save Disney Campaign’ which was established in 1984. He was he Vice Chairman of the company from 1984 to 2003. He then returned to Disney in 2003 for a second campaign taking on the roles of a non-voting director and consultant. By 2006, he had an estimated personal fortune of $1.2 billion.
He died on December 16, 2009, from stomach cancer in Hoag Memorial Hospital in Newport Beach, California. At the time of his death, he was just weeks away from his 80th birthday.
His ashes were scattered in the Pacific Ocean. When he died, Roy E. Disney owned approximately 16 million shares of the company which was the equivalent to 1% of it as a whole.
19. The Company Operates Through Four Company Units
The Disney World Company is a huge conglomerate that is divided into four main segments of business. These are Studio Entertainment, Parks and Resorts, Media Networks, and Consumer Products and Interactive Media. Disney Media Networks has control over all the television networks, cable channels, distribution and production companies, television stations, and a range of joint television ventures.
Parks and Resorts is responsible for the management of all the parks and resorts owned by Disney. Studio Entertainment owns and manages all the Walt Disney Studios. It also owns and manages LucasFilm, Disney Nature, Disney Music Group, Pixar, Disneytoon Studios, Disney Theatrical Group, Marvel Studios, and Walt Disney Animation Studios.
The Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media segment of the business controls Disney Digital Network, Disney Store, and Disney Publishing Worldwide.
20. There Are Five Disneyland Parks and Resorts
In total, there are five main Disney Parks and resorts; two in the United States and three in other international locations. The American resorts include the original park in California and Disney’s largest park in Florida.
The international resorts are in Paris, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Each of these parks encompasses a collection of different themed parks and resorts. Disneyland Paris includes seven resorts, a Disneyland Park, a Walt Disney Studios Park, a Disney Village, and a Golf Disneyland.
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Written by Garrett Parker
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