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An example of an Acme product from a Road Runner cartoon
The company name in the Road Runner cartoons is ironic, since the word acme is derived from Greek (?; English transliteration: akm?) meaning the peak, zenith or prime, yet products from the fictional Acme Corporation are often generic, failure-prone, and/or explosive.
A real-world advertisement for ACME anvils
Acme means "pinnacle", so the name was sometimes used to symbolize the best. An early global Acme brand name was the 'Acme City' whistle made from mid 1870s onwards by J Hudson & Co, followed by the 'Acme Thunderer', and Acme Siren in 1895. The name became particularly popular for businesses in the 1920s, when alphabetized business telephone directories such as the Yellow Pages began to be widespread: a name at the beginning of the alphabet would be listed first, and a name implying "the best" was even better. There was a flood of businesses named Acme; some survive to this day, including Acme Brick, Acme Markets, and Acme Boots. Early Sears catalogues contained a number of products with the "Acme" trademark, including anvils, which are frequently used in Warner Bros. cartoons. The ubiquitousness of the name became something of a joke.
Warner Brothers animator Chuck Jones has said the name Acme was chosen because of its prevalence:
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.
The name Acme also had other connotations for people in Los Angeles at the time. During the time the Warner Bros. cartoons were being produced, the traffic lights in Los Angeles were manufactured by the Acme Traffic Signal Company. The traffic lights paired "Stop" and "Go" semaphore arms with small red and green lights. Bells played the role of today's amber or yellow lights, ringing when the flags changed--a process that took five seconds. The Acme semaphore traffic lights were often used in Warner Bros.' Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons for comedic effect due to their loud bell which was often followed by screeching tires and many sight gags.
It is a misconception that Acme is an acronym standing for such things as "A Company Making Everything", "American Companies Make Everything" or "American Company that Manufactures Everything".
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 (some products do work very well, but backfire against the coyote). 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)".
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.
A mural of Wile E. Coyote smashed into an ACME Instant Tunnel on the wall of the Rotch Library at MIT
Examples which specifically reference the Wile E. Coyote cartoon character include:
Animated films, TV series
The 1988 Disney/Touchstone and Amblin Entertainment film Who Framed Roger Rabbit attempted to explain Acme's inner workings in detail. The movie's plot is centered on the murder of the founder of Acme Incorporated, Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye). Many of the film's scenes involve Acme products, and the climactic scene of the film is set in the Acme warehouse.
The Tiny Toon Adventures series expanded on Acme's influence, with the entire setting of the show taking place in a city called "Acme Acres". The show's young protagonists attended "Acme Looniversity". In one episode, the coyote sues Acme, accusing it of making products that are unsafe. At the legal hearing, however, an Acme representative argues the products are not dangerous if used properly. For example, the coyote would attempt to launch himself using an Acme catapult by cutting the rope used to wind it, but the Acme representative pointed out that he was supposed to simply pull a lever.
Acme Corporation is the main antagonist of the movie Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003). The head offices of Acme are depicted, revealing it to be a multinational corporation whose executive officers are led by the villainous Mr. Chairman, portrayed by Steve Martin.
Joey Green wrote "Cliff-Hanger Justice", a fictional account of a product liability lawsuit by Wile E. Coyote against Acme, which appeared in three parts in the August, September, and October 1982 issues of National Lampoon magazine.
Ian Frazier wrote a fictional legal complaint "Coyote vs. Acme", which was published in The New Yorker and eventually became the title piece of a short fiction collection.
The Comprehensive Perl Archive Network provides an "Acme::" namespace which contains many humorous, useless and abstract modules for the Perl programming language. It was named "in homage to that greatest of all absurd system creators: Wile E. Coyote."