The Acme Corporation is a fictional corporation that features prominently in Warner Bros. animated shorts, more specifically, 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, commercials and comic strips.
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, and products from the fictional Acme Corporation are often generic, failure-prone, and/or explosive.
The name Acme became popular for businesses by the 1920s, when alphabetized business telephone directories such as the Yellow Pages began to be widespread. 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. There was a flood of businesses named Acme, including Acme Brick, Acme Markets, and Acme Boots. Early Sears catalogues even contained a number of products with the "Acme" trademark, including anvils, which are frequently used in Warner Bros. cartoons.
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.-- Chuck Jones in a 2009 documentary
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 that Makes 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. 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, but the owner instead); 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, such as an early episode of I Love Lucy, and film, from the silent era onward in such titles as Buster Keaton's silent film Neighbors (1920) and Harold Lloyd's Grandma's Boy (1922).
Examples which specifically reference the Wile E. Coyote cartoon character include: