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How Did Walt Disney Become So Big?

Walt Disney (DIS) is one of the biggest corporations in the world. Before it was a corporation with a market cap of $164 billion, with interests spanning around the globe, Disney was more closely identified with the dream of the man it was named after. It was this dream that laid the cornerstone for the business to become the media powerhouse. Disney is planning to launch its streaming service in a blow to Netflix, which has licensed many main components of the Disney library. 

Walt Disney started driving the American Ambulance Corps and started searching for work as an artist during World War I in 1919. He met Ubbe Iwerks at the Commercial Art Studio in Pesmen-Rubin. Iwerks proved to be one of the world’s most talented animators and a precursor to the later success of Walt. 

The Brothers Disney

Walt’s least valued ability convinced others to take an interest in his dream. Walt convinced his brother Roy to assist him in starting Disney Brothers Studio in Hollywood, without Iwerks, and later renamed Walt Disney Studio. 

Learned Hard Lessons 

Walt Disney Studio was not as profitable as prior incarnations, but it stayed afloat. The company was working for Universal Pictures to create a character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

Mickey Mouse

There is some debate about where Mickey Mouse came from and hypotheses range from a Kansas wastepaper tub to Iwerks flipping through photos and sketching animals. Walt put together a new team to work on the new character with Iwerks. The first two films did not become a hit, but the third one, “Steamboat Willie,” was a big success. 


The cost of these groundbreaking movies was so high, and the margins so low, that a poor box office could sink the studio still. Walt had wanted to do more instead of slowing down. The brothers set up their own production business, Buena Vista, and started making high-margin documentaries about nature.


To build the “happiest place on earth,” there had to be a lot of financial maneuvering, and Walt made it happen. He then proposed a TV show for a television network that would invest in Disneyland. Disneyland eventually opened in 1955 and became an immense success.

Beyond Walt and Roy

Disney had suffered since the death of Walt and his brother Roy. The company was listed in IPO in 1957, and the increase in its stock price was small. The stock rose in leaps and bounds from the 1980’s to the 1990’s, making Disney the world’s largest entertainment empire.


Financial history is full of personalities and influential figures. Many of history’s richest people got there by creating fur, oil, steel, rail, and, yes, tech empires. These are all measurable goods with a clear formula: hold down the costs and sell more. Disney, the man, and the corporation, were separate entities and were able to achieve great heights of success.