The acme of cartoons

The origin of acme

The word acme means the best or most perfect thing that can exist or be achieved. It is quite an old word, being first used in English in the 1560s for the highest point. It comes from Greek akmē meaning highest point, edge, peak of anything (in English it was written in the Greek form until about 1620).

The Acme Corporation

Many of us were brought up before the Internet watching endless re-runs of the Warner Brothers cartoon series, Looney Tunes when we got home from school. We therefore know Acme as the ubiquitous corporation that sold cartoon characters the devices that either saved them or made things worse. There is a common belief that ACME stood for American Company that Makes Everything but that is not true according to interviews with Chuck Jones, the creator of many of the cartoons.

There is a grocery store chain in the US, Acme Markets, that was founded 1891 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was not the basis for the cartoon organisation. In those days there were many US businesses using acme. Its meaning was appropriate but also starting with an “A” it got you to the front of the alphabetical listing in the phone book.

Acme customer—Wile E. Coyote

Warner Brother cartoon character was Wile E. Coyote The most hapless Warner Brother cartoon character was Wile E. Coyote who debuted with his equally famous and most frequent adversary, Road Runner, in 1949. About 48 cartoons created by Chuck Jones featured these two characters.

Wile E. Coyote, a cartoon Don Quixote, is on an unrelenting and unfulfilled quest to capture the Road Runner. In each cartoon the coyote uses elaborate and absurd gadgets to try to even the playing field in his pursuit of the inconceivably fast Road Runner. These contraptions are mostly purchased from the Acme Corporation (very rarely other product brands were used by the coyote such as “Fleet-Foot” brand super-powered running shoes, and “Ajax” brand glue).

The coyote is always defeated as the plans backfire and as he often becomes the victim of “cartoon physics” where, for instance, gravity behaves differently for the coyote, the Road Runner, boulders, and anvils.

Customer complaint

Ian Frazier, a staff writer for The New Yorker Magazine wrote a piece in the 26 February 1990 edition representing the Plaintiff’s Opening Statement in the case of Coyote vs. Acme. Here are some excerpts:

Mr. Coyote states that on eighty-five separate occasions, he has purchased of the Acme Company (hereinafter, ‘Defendant’), through that company’s mail order department, certain products which did cause him bodily injury due to defects in manufacture or improper cautionary labeling. Sales slips made out to Mr. Coyote as proof of purchase are at present in the possession of the Court, marked Exhibit A.

… Such injuries sustained by Mr. Coyote have temporarily restricted his ability to make a living in the profession of predator. Mr. Coyote is self-employed and thus not eligible for Workmen’s Compensation.

Mr. Coyote states that on occasions too numerous to list in this document he has suffered mishaps with explosives purchased of Defendant: the Acme ‘Little Giant’ Firecracker, the Acme Self-Guided Aerial Bomb, etc. … Indeed, it is safe to say that not once has an explosive purchased of Defendant by Mr. Coyote performed in an expected manner. …

I am not sure how the case ended up but there is a film in production due for release in 2023.