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The Acme Corporation is a fictional corporation that features prominently in the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons as a running gag featuring outlandish products that fail or backfire catastrophically at the worst possible times. The name is also used as a generic title in many cartoons, films, TV series and comics.
The company name in the Road Runner cartoons is ironic, since the word acme is derived from Greek (αιχμή / ακμή ; English transliteration: acmē) meaning the peak, zenith or prime, and products from the fictional Acme Corporation are both generic and failure-prone.
The name Acme became popular for businesses by the 1920s, when alphabetized business telephone directories such as the Yellow Pages began to be widespread. There were a flood of businesses named Acme (some of these still survive). For example, early Sears catalogues contained a number of products with the "Acme" trademark, including anvils, which are frequently used in Warner Bros. cartoons.
We were little madcaps along the beach and we did what we enjoyed doing and could get dirty and could eat hot dogs and so on. Since we had to search out our own entertainment, we devised our own fairy stories. If you wanted a bow and arrow you got a stick. If you wanted to conduct an orchestra you got a stick. If you wanted a duel you used a stick. You couldn't go and buy one; that's where the terms acme came from. Whenever we played a game where we had a grocery store or something we called it the ACME corporation. Why? Because in the yellow pages if you looked, say, under drugstores, you'd find the first one would be Acme Drugs. Why? Because "AC" was about as high as you could go; it means the best; the superlative.
Cartoon animation is drawn on paper and cels which have holes punched in them for registration. There were 2 standards Acme and Oxberry. The names come from actual film equipment companies. Oxberry was a British company and was seen on the American east coast. Acme was dominant on the west coast. The Acme film equipment company in California not only made the hole punches, but the animation stands used by all the west coast animation studios. Acme also made lights, some cameras and a host of other film gear. Animators working at Warner Brothers used Acme punched paper shot on Acme animation stands drew on Acme disks (light tables). Whenever they ordered something, it probably came from Acme. So having products come from Acme in cartoons was an inside joke that any animator would recognize.
Before Road Runner, an "Acme Company" which controls the production and sale of the fictional element "tungite" appears in the 1940 serial Mysterious Doctor Satan.
The company is never clearly defined in Road Runner cartoons but appears to be a conglomerate which produces every product type imaginable, no matter how elaborate or extravagant - most of which never work as desired or expected. In the Road Runner cartoon Beep, Beep, it was referred to as "Acme Rocket-Powered Products, Inc." based in Fairfield, New Jersey. Many of its products appear to be produced specifically for Wile E. Coyote; for example, the Acme Giant Rubber Band, subtitled "(For Tripping Road Runners)".
Sometimes, Acme can also send living creatures through the mail, though that isn't done very often. Two examples of this are the Acme Wild-Cat, which had been used on Elmer Fudd and Sam Sheepdog (which doesn't maul its intended victim); and Acme Bumblebees in one-fifth bottles (which sting Wile E. Coyote). The Wild Cat was used in the shorts Don't Give Up the Sheep and A Mutt in a Rut, while the bees were used in the short Zoom and Bored.
While their products leave much to be desired, Acme delivery service is second to none; Wile E. can merely drop an order into a mailbox (or enter an order on a website, as in the Looney Tunes: Back in Action movie), and have the product in his hands within seconds.
The name "Acme" is used as a generic corporate name in a huge number of cartoons, comics, television shows (as early as an I Love Lucy episode), and film (as early as Buster Keaton's 1920 silent film Neighbors and Harold Lloyd's 1922 film Grandma's Boy).
Examples which specifically reference the Wile E. Coyote cartoon character include: