Walt Disney and his brother, Roy, founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in 1923. A cartoonist and animator, Walt Disney sold his first short film, “Alice’s Wonderland,” and signed a contract to produce a series of additional films based on the characters. The brothers soon renamed their brand to the Walt Disney Studio.
The fledgling brand got its first big break in 1928 when Disney created the iconic “Mickey Mouse.” The character has starred in countless TV and film productions since its creation and remains a tent pole attraction at Disney theme parks.
Disney released its first animated feature film, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” in 1937. The movie was an immediate hit with audiences and began decades of box office success for the company. Additional classic films, including “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia,” followed.
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The company expanded to merchandise based on its characters and, eventually, to live events in the form of theme parks. Disneyland opened in 1955 and has remained an entertainment mainstay in California. Walt Disney World in Florida opened in 1971.
Disney has made several key acquisitions throughout its history. The company acquired controlling interest in ESPN in 1996, Pixar Animation Studio in 2006, Marvel in 2009 and “Star Wars” parent LucasFilm in 2012.
The “Marvel Cinematic Universe” and a new “Star Wars” trilogy pushed Disney to unprecedented box office success. The company’s films earned more than $10 billion at the global box office in 2019.
Other key initiatives include the development of streaming services. Disney owns Hulu and launched two additional branded streaming services, ESPN+ and Disney+, since 2018.
Modern Disney is divided into four business segments – media networks; parks, experiences and products; studio entertainment; and direct-to-consumer and international. The company’s market capitalization exceeded $200 billion as of June 2020.