The Walt Disney Company

As one of America's most iconic companies, the timeline of The Walt Disney Company reflects major shifts in the entertainment industry across the 20th and 21st centuries.

From humble beginnings in animation to a sprawling media empire, this historical timeline charts how Walt Disney built an unrivaled American brand that remains culturally influential globally.

Spanning over a century, the story of Disney involves technological innovations in film along with savvy executive decisions that transformed a Disney Brothers Studio into the multimedia powerhouse valued over $200 billion today.

EARLY YEARS (1923-1966)

Mickey Mouse cartoon
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1923 — Founding

Disney Brothers Studio is founded in Hollywood by brothers Walt and Roy Disney after they complete their first animated short film called Alice's Wonderland.

Their studio is called the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio.

1928 — Mickey Mouse

A character named Mortimer Mouse is created but his name is soon changed to Mickey Mouse.

Mickey stars in the animated short Steamboat Willie, which debuts at the Colony Theater in New York in November. It is the first animated film with synchronized sound and introduces Mickey Mouse to the world.

1929-1933 — Stardom

Mickey Mouse rapidly grows in popularity and becomes an iconic American cartoon character, starring in many Disney shorts.

By 1934, Disney merchandise featuring Mickey outsold its animated shorts.

1937 — Snow White

Disney releases its first feature-length animated film called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which becomes a major box office success.

This risky and hugely expensive animated film, which took over 3 years to make, showed that animation could support a feature film.

1940 — IPO

The company goes public with an IPO and construction begins on a 51-acre studio lot in Burbank, California.

Disney also begins its first live-action films starting with Treasure Island in 1950.

1955 — Disneyland

After almost a decade of planning and development, the Disneyland park opens in Anaheim on July 18th 1955.

The opening is aired on national TV. By its first year over 3.6 million guests visit.

1966 — Death of Walt Disney

Walt Disney, the creative driving force and face of his company, passes away from lung cancer at the age of 65 after a short battle with the disease.

The last two films he actively supervised, The Jungle Book and The Happiest Millionaire, are released the next year.

EXPANSION ERA (1966-2005)

Disney World
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1971 — Walt Disney World Resort

The Walt Disney World Resort opens on October 1st in Orlando, Florida. It includes the Magic Kingdom theme park, hotels, golf courses, and plans for EPCOT.

It draws over 10 million visitors in its first year despite some early challenges.

1984 — Film & TV Expansion

Michael Eisner and Frank Wells come over from Paramount and are named Chairman/CEO and President of Disney respectively.

They expand the film and TV divisions greatly.

1989 — Movie Hits

The animated musical The Little Mermaid kicks off a highly successful era known as the Disney Renaissance.

Films like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King are major hits during this period.

1990 — Adult Focus

Disney launches Hollywood Pictures and Touchstone Pictures to make films aimed at mature audiences.

The company also starts the Hollywood Records music label.

1993 — Miramax Films

Disney acquires independent film company Miramax Films to distribute and produce more adult oriented/arthouse films.

1996 — ABC

In one of the largest media acquisitions ever, Disney purchases Capital Cities/ABC for $19 billion.

This adds the ABC television network, ESPN, and other major assets.

1997 — Disneyland Paris

Disney expands internationally with the opening of Disneyland Park in Paris.

The company also continues to grow its cable networks like Disney Channel.

2005 — Bob Iger

Bob Iger succeeds Michael Eisner as CEO of Disney.

His tenure starts with the acquisition of Pixar Animation Studios for over $7 billion.


star wars
© History Oasis

2006 — Pixar

Disney acquires Pixar Animation Studios for $7.4 billion.

This brings in creative leads John Lasseter and Ed Catmull who revitalize Walt Disney Animation Studios.

2009 — Marvel

Disney acquires Marvel Entertainment, bringing characters like Iron Man, Thor, Captain America into the Disney fold.

This lays the groundwork for a substantial film franchise.

2012 — Star Wars

In one of Bob Iger's biggest moves, Disney purchases Lucasfilm for $4 billion.

This adds Star Wars, Indiana Jones and other properties to Disney and launches new Star Wars films.

2016 — Disneyland Shanghai

Disney opens its first theme park resort in mainland China—the $5.5 billion Shanghai Disney Resort which draws millions of visitors.

2019 — Fox

In a transformative $71 billion deal, Disney purchases most of 21st Century Fox, acquiring film studios, cable networks, streaming tech and other media assets.

This makes Disney the largest media company worldwide.

2020 — Bob Chapek

Bob Chapek, a 27-year Disney veteran from the Parks division, succeeds Bob Iger as CEO of the company.

However, Iger remains closely involved.

2022 — Bob Iger Returns

After poor financial performance, the board makes a surprise move reinstating Bob Iger as CEO and replacing Chapek.

Iger agrees to serve two more years to set a long-term strategy.