Walt Disney Co. DIS really did start out almost as small as a mouse, but has followed a fairy tale story to entertainment colossus. It's been a pretty long ride though from small-cap animation studio to global fun company.
Late '50s IPO
Disney had been a staple of the American cinema long before its 1957 IPO and debut on the New York Stock Exchange. Those first shares traded at $13.88.
But the public offering, a couple weeks before "Old Yeller" opened, followed its move into other realms of entertainment. Two years earlier in 1955, it opened Disneyland in California, and its "Mickey Mouse Club" show debuted on the new medium of television.
Disney had been making animated features for a couple decades by then; "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," its first feature, came back in 1937. Mickey had been around since 1928, after Walt and Roy Disney began Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in 1923. And Disney had issued some over-the-counter shares back in 1940.
'50s And '60s: Small But Mighty
Through its early years as a publicly traded company, Disney had movie hit after movie hit, and became a TV fixture, with "Davy Crockett" and "Zorro," followed by "The Wonderful World of Disney," as well as the opening of its Florida Disney World in the mid-1960s. "Mary Poppins," in 1964, was its biggest film of that decade.
While Walt Disney died in 1966, classic movies kept coming, including 1967's "The Jungle Book" and 1968's "The Love Bug."
Still, it remained a relatively small company, with a 1968 market capitalization just below $300 million.
But then came a long period of steady growth in company value, as the market cap grew to $500 million before the end of 1968, and then $1 billion on Jan. 20, 1970, shortly after the release of “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes,” starring a young Kurt Russell.
It would triple in value in the early 1970s but go through a decade-long lull during hovering mostly between $1 billion and about $2.5 billion. The long, slow climb to over $100 billion - and eventually over $200 billion - started in 1984, the only year in the 1980s in which Disney didn't release a film.
It hit $10 billion by the end of the 1980s, getting there to stay right before "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" was released. Then, by the time "Honey, I Blew Up the Kid" came out in 1992, it was at $20 billion, though the link between that movie and Disney's success is questionable. Then, $50 billion came just before the trailers for 1997's "Air Bud."
Disney suffered through the market trough of the early 2000s and would drop below $30 billion again during the 2008-2009 recession.
But it continued to grown and hit the magic number of $100 billion in March 2013, right around the release of "Oz the Great and Powerful," with James Franco and Mila Kunis.
Total time from IPO to $100 billion: a little more than 55 years.
The trip from $100 billion to $200 billion was less like a float through the Small World ride and more like a roller coaster. It hit $200 billion briefly in 2015 then dropped, and then in just a couple months last year, shot from about $160 billion in March to nearly $250 billion in May.
Disney shares now trade around $133 and its market cap is $240 billion.
Disney Stock Milestones
- 1957: IPO and debut on NYSE
- 1966: Walt Disney dies
- 1970: Market Cap hits $1 billion
- 1987: Market Cap hits $10 billion
- 1991: Disney joins the Dow Jones Industrial Average
- 1997: Market Cap at $50 billion
- 2013: Market Cap tops $100 billion
- 2020: Market cap at $254 billion
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