Time and the Entertainment Titan


On this day in economic and financial history ...

What time is it? If you're in New York City, Boston, Miami, or Atlanta, your smartphone has the same answer. But none of these cities receives sunlight at exactly the same time. What happens if you have to coordinate a conference call between these cities using local solar time? Worse, what if you have to have a conference call between all of these cities, and rope in Houston, Los Angeles, and Chicago as well? You'd need to know the local time for each city and be able to coordinate between them. The planning might take as long as the call!

The growing communications and transport web of the latter 19th century, most notably the telegraph and the railroad, made standardized time zones a growing necessity. Finally, on Nov. 18, 1883, "The Day of Two Noons," a five-time-zone standardized system, went into effect at railroad stations and timekeeping locations across the United States.

America's new "Railway Time" was the brainchild of William F. Allen, editor of the Traveler's Official Railway Guide. It earned the support of railroad executives and telegraph executives alike, with larger companies like Western Union (NYS: WU) eager to adopt the new system on its first official day. America continued to evolve its conception of time zones for nearly a century, until the Uniform Time Act of 1966 standardized the use of daylight-saving time as well as the four primary time zones in use in the United States today.

The spectacle (things were different in the 1880s) of a stopped clock at New York's City Hall during the changeover drew a small crowd, whose reactions were captured by The New York Times, and I promise this is a verbatim account:

"Begorra," remarked to his companion a vermillion-topped Hibernian [red-headed Irishman] ... "the thing has stopped; pwhats the matther wid it, anyhow? I don't see no time changin', do you, Mike?"

"Divil a change at all, at all, can I see," said his companion, who turned away with apparent disgust after watching the motionless hand for a minute or two. "Lave us go on, the hull thing's a sell."

"Howld your whist, will you," said the first speaker, who still gazed fixedly at the clock. "She's movin' agin. Watch it now." The two gazed steadily at the clock, and saw the minute hand again start on its course. ... "I towld yer 'twas a sell. The clock's running agin, and there's been nary a change of time at all, at all."

The 1880s, everybody! Why don't we give it a nice round of applause? Nothing commemorates the start of an important shift toward globalization like a pair of harrumphing Irishmen.

Watcha gonna do, brother?
World Wrestling Entertainment's (NYS: WWE) CEO Vince McMahon came as close as he ever has to losing it all on Nov. 18, 1993, when he was indicted on steroids charges. The indictment was a follow-up to an earlier steroid-distribution case against a doctor known to have supplied many of McMahon's top talents. The case ran until McMahon was acquitted in May 1994, and prompted McMahon to transfer the CEO role to his wife, Linda, who held the role until stepping down to run for U.S. Senate in 2009.

McMahon faced varying levels of punishment as the case evolved, including a $2 million fine, 11 years of jail time, and possible seizure of WWE's corporate headquarters at the time. The distraction of the case helped rival promotion World Championship Wrestling to lure away several of McMahon's top talents, which led to heated prime-time battles through much of the 1990s. This period helped create many of the WWE's most recognizable players, and eventually led the consolidation that left WWE as the only real game in town. It probably hurt like a steel chair to the face at the time, but over the long run, fighting the feds might have made Vince McMahon a better executive, and the WWE a stronger company.

Unfortunately for WWE shareholders, another federal steroids investigation -- launched after the murder-suicide of addled former champion Chris Benoit in 2007 -- has not had a similar effect.

M-I-C, K-E-Y
The House of Mouse wouldn't have been much without Mickey. On Nov. 18, 1928, Disney's (NYS: DIS) iconic mouse made his public debut in Steamboat Willie, which premiered at the Colony Theatre in New York City. Steamboat Willie marked the first of many Disney efforts to break new ground on film, and was the first cartoon with its own properly synchronized soundtrack.

Disney's black-and-white talking and music-making mouse was an immediate success. A number of short cartoons were produced over the next decade, establishing both the early Disney character roster and Disney's mastery of color techniques. This streak of success culminated nine years later with the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was the first feature-length animated film and which cemented Disney's rise to the top of Hollywood when it earned an honorary Oscar.

It took Disney a long time to earn the Dow Jones Industrial Average's (INDEX: ^DJI) attention, but it's been a more durable component than many. In the Dow's entire history, only two entertainment-exclusive companies have been components -- Disney and Paramount Publix, which was a member from 1925 to 1932, and which has since evolved into plain old Paramount Pictures, an important subsidiary of Viacom (NAS: VIA) . Disney's uninterrupted position since 1991 makes it by far the longer-tenured of the two, and at this point, it's unlikely that any company would have the financial clout to gobble up Disney the way it's gobbled up smaller entertainment brands in recent years.

Mickey Mouse is world-famous now, and millions of children spend some part of their day with Disney's first big star. That kind of global recognition is invaluable to American companies, which is why the best worldwide brands often make some of the best investments. If you're looking for other globe-straddling corporate behemoths like Disney, our free report offers "Three American Companies Set to Dominate the World." All you need to do for more information is to click here.

The article Time and the Entertainment Titan originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Alex Planes holds no financial position in any company mentioned here. Add him on Google+ or follow him on Twitter, @TMFBiggles, for more news and insights.The Motley Fool owns shares of Walt Disney. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Western Union and Walt Disney and creating a write covered straddle position in Western Union. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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