"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 'ACME.' Why? Because in the yellow pages if you looked, say, under drugstores, you'd find the first one would be ACME Drugs. Why? Because "A.C." was about as high as you could go; it means the best; the superlative."
―Chuck Jones explaining the origin of ACME
ACME is a fictional corporation that features prominently in the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote cartoons as a running gag featuring outlandish products that fail catastrophically at the worst possible times. The name is also used as a generic title in many cartoons, films, and TV series.
The company name in the Road-Runner cartoons is ironic, since the word acme is derived from Greek meaning the peak, zenith, or prime, and products from ACME 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 catalogs contained a number of products with the "Acme" trademark, including anvils, which are frequently used in Warner Bros. cartoons, particularly in Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons.
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 - none of which ever 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 are 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 is used in the shorts Don't Give Up the Sheep and A Mutt in a Rut, while the bees are 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.
In one of the later cartoons, it is revealed that ACME is "A Wholly-Owned Subsidiary Of Roadrunner Corporation," suggesting that The Road-Runner possibly controlled the nature of the products that Wile E. ordered so that they would backfire.
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 meme include:
The Tiny Toons 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 attend "ACME Looniversity." Calamity Coyote often bought products from the fictional Acme company in his quest to catch the roadrunner Little Beeper. In one episode, the company revealed its slogan: "For fifty years, the leader in creative mayhem." Calamity once sued the company in a People's Court spoof, and its chairman, an anthropomorphic rat named Bobbo Acme, tries to prove its products really do work and any mishaps are caused by operator error.
The 1998 film Quest For Camelot shows a potion made by witches, shown to be coming from ACME. It is bought by Sir Ruber, the film's villain, who uses it to turn his followers into golem soldiers to take over the kingdom of Camelot.
The 2003 Comedy/Adventure film Looney Tunes: Back In Action shows the head offices of ACME, revealed to be a multinational corporation whose executive officers are led by a villain named "Mr. Chairman," portrayed by Steve Martin.
In The Simpsons episode Last Tap Dance In Springfield, rat traps Chief Wiggum uses to catch a culprit are made by the company Wile E. Coyote patronized.
In Family Guy, Peter is seen running an ACME store and Wile E. Coyote is complaining about some of the products he purchased which failed and mentions his many years of being an ACME customer. Peter offers to give him store credit.
The 1988 Comedy/Mystery film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? attempts to explain ACME's inner workings in detail. The movie's storyline is centered on the murder of Marvin Acme, the founder of ACME. Many of the film's scenes involve ACME products, and the climactic scene of the film is set in the ACME factory. ACME also appears to make non-Toonish devices, and even has a company slogan: "If it's ACME, it's a gasser."
In the movie Armageddon (1998), a reference is made to Wile E.'s failed attempts to catch The Road-Runner with an ACME rocket.
In Last Action Hero, ACME products (ACME dynamite, ACME Storage Center cardboard boxes, ACME video store, old ACME Engineering sign, ACME construction crane...) can be seen in the Jack Slater IV movie. An excerpt from a Wile E. Coyote/Road-Runner cartoon is also shown early in the movie.
In the web series Web Therapy (2009), a reference is made to ACME by Lisa Kudrow's character Fiona Wallice as an unreliable D.N.A. lab, its label including "a roadrunner and a coyote."
Ian Frazier wrote a fictional opening statement as a humor article in The New Yorker Magazine (v66, Feb 26, 1990, p. 42) in the form of a lawsuit by Wile E. Coyote against ACME. The piece is the title work of his collection, Coyote Vs. ACME.
The Comprehensive Perl Archive Network provides an "ACME" namespace which contains many humorous, useless and abstract modules for the Perl programming language.
It is a common misconception that ACME is an acronym standing for such things as "ACompany that Makes Everything," "American Companies Make Everything," or "American Company that Manufactures Everything".