The beginning/Capitol Wrestling
Roderick James "Jess" McMahon was a boxing promoter whose achievements included co-promoting a bout in 1915 between Jess Willard and Jack Johnson. In 1926, while working with Tex Rickard (who actually despised wrestling to such a degree he prevented wrestling events from being held at Madison Square Garden between 1939 and 1948), he started promoting boxing in Madison Square Garden in New York. The first match during their partnership was a light-heavyweight championship match between Jack Delaney and Paul Berlenbach.
Around the same time, professional wrestler Joseph Raymond "Toots" Mondt created a new style of professional wrestling that he called Slam Bang Western Style Wrestling to make the sport more appealing to spectators. He then formed a promotion with wrestling champion Ed Lewis and his manager Billy Sandow. They persuaded many wrestlers to sign contracts with their Gold Dust Trio. After much success, a disagreement over power caused the trio to dissolve and, with it, their promotion. Mondt formed partnerships with several other promoters, including Jack Curley in New York City. When Curley was dying, Mondt moved to take over New York wrestling with the aid of several bookers, one of whom was Jess McMahon.
Together, Roderick McMahon and Raymond Mondt created the Capitol Wrestling Corporation (CWC). The CWC joined the National Wrestling Alliance in 1953. Also in that year, Ray Fabiani, one of Mondt's associates, brought in Vincent J. McMahon to replace his father Jess in the promotion. McMahon and Mondt were a successful combination, and within a short time, they controlled approximately 70% of the NWA's booking, largely due to their dominance in the heavily populated Northeast region. Mondt taught McMahon about booking and how to work in the wrestling business.
World Wide Wrestling Federation
The NWA recognized an undisputed NWA World Heavyweight Champion that went from wrestling company to wrestling company in the alliance and defended the belt around the world. In 1963, the champion was Buddy Rogers.
The rest of the NWA was unhappy with Mondt because he rarely allowed Rogers to wrestle outside of the Northeast. Mondt and McMahon wanted Rogers to keep the NWA World Championship, but Rogers was unwilling to sacrifice his $25,000 deposit on the belt (title holders at the time had to pay a deposit to insure they would honor their commitments as champion). Rogers lost the NWA World Championship to Lou Thesz in a one-fall match in Toronto, Ontario on January 24, 1963, which led to Mondt, McMahon and the CWC leaving the NWA in protest, creating the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) in the process.
In April, Rogers was awarded the new WWWF World Championship following an apocryphal tournament in Rio de Janeiro. He lost the title to Bruno Sammartino a month later on May 17, 1963, after suffering a heart attack shortly before the match. To accommodate Rogers' condition, the match was booked to last under a minute.
Mondt left the company in the late sixties for unclear reasons, probably due to old age.
Although the WWWF had withdrawn from the NWA, Vince McMahon Sr. still sat on the NWA Board of Directors, no other territory was recognized in the Northeast, and several "champion vs. champion" matches occurred (usually ending in a double disqualification or some other non-decisive ending).
In March 1979, the WWWF became the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). The change was purely cosmetic, and the ownership and front office personnel remained unchanged during this period.
World Wrestling Federation
In 1980, the son of Vincent J. McMahon, Vincent K. McMahon, founded Titan Sports, Inc. and in 1982 purchased Capitol Wrestling Corporation from his father. The elder McMahon had long since established the northeastern territory as one of the most vibrant members of the NWA. He had long since recognized that professional wrestling was more about entertainment than actual sport. Against his father's wishes, McMahon began an expansion process that would fundamentally change the sport, and place both the WWF - and his own life - in jeopardy.
The WWF was not the only promotion to have broken ranks with the NWA; the American Wrestling Association (AWA) had long ago ceased being an official NWA member (although like the WWF, they seldom left their own territory). But in neither instance did the defecting member attempt to undermine, and destroy, the territory system that had been the foundation of the industry for more than half a century.
Other promoters were furious when McMahon began syndicating WWF television shows to television stations across the United States, in areas outside of the WWF's traditional northeastern stronghold. McMahon also began selling videotapes of WWF events outside the Northeast through his Coliseum Video distribution company. He effectively broke the unwritten law of regionalism around which the entire industry had been based. To make matters worse, McMahon would use the income generated by advertising, television deals, and tape sales to poach talent from rival promoters. Wrestling promoters nationwide were now in direct competition with the WWF.
The first step in McMahon's attempt to go national was to sign AWA superstar Hulk Hogan, who, due to his appearance in Rocky III had a national recognition that few other wrestlers could manage. To play Hogan's nemesis, he signed North Carolina badboy Roddy Piper, and also another bodybuilder in the Billy Graham mold, Jesse Ventura (although Ventura rarely wrestled in the WWF at that point due to the lung disorder that caused his retirement, moving to the commentator booth alongside Gorilla Monsoon). McMahon built a superstar roster consisting of these men on top, in addition to New York mainstays like André the Giant, Jimmy Snuka and Don Muraco, and wandering journeymen like Paul Orndorff, Greg Valentine, Ricky Steamboat and The Iron Sheik. It has long been a point of contention whether McMahon could have gone national without Hogan's presence, or vice versa.
According to several reports, the elder McMahon warned his son: "Vinny, what are you doing? You'll wind up at the bottom of a river." In spite of such warnings, the younger McMahon had an even bolder ambition: the WWF would tour nationally. However, such a venture required huge capital investment; one that placed the WWF on the verge of financial collapse.
The future of not just McMahon's experiment, but also the WWF, the NWA, and the whole industry came down to the success or failure of McMahon's groundbreaking concept, WrestleMania. WrestleMania was a pay-per-view extravaganza (in some areas; most areas of the country saw WrestleMania available on closed-circuit television) that McMahon marketed as being the Super Bowl of professional wrestling.
The concept of a wrestling super card was nothing new in North America; the NWA had been running Starrcade a few years prior to WrestleMania, and even the elder McMahon had marketed large Shea Stadium cards viewable in closed-circuit locations. However, McMahon wanted to take the WWF to the mainstream, targeting the public who were not regular wrestling fans. He drew the interest of the mainstream media by inviting celebrities such as Mr. T and Cyndi Lauper to participate in the event. MTV, in particular, featured a great deal of WWF coverage and programming at this time, in what was termed the Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection.
The Golden Age
The original WrestleMania, held in 1985, was a resounding success. This event is sometimes credited as the debut of what McMahon called "sports entertainment." However, as mentioned above, his father had emphasized pro wrestling's entertainment value some years before. The WWF did incredible business on the shoulders of McMahon and his all-American babyface hero, Hulk Hogan, for the next several years, creating what some observers dubbed a second golden age for professional wrestling. However, by the 1990s the WWF's fortunes steadily declined as fans were tired of Hulk Hogan's ability to beat anyone and everyone whenever he wanted.
The New Generation
The WWF hit a low point in the wake of allegations of steroid abuse and distribution made against McMahon and the WWF in 1994; there were also allegations of sexual harassment made by WWF employees. McMahon was eventually exonerated, but it was a public relations nightmare for the WWF. The steroid trial cost the WWF an estimated $5 million at a time when revenues were at an all-time low. To compensate, McMahon cut the pay of both wrestlers and front office personnel - close to 40% in the latter case (and about 50% for top level managers such as Bobby Heenan and Jimmy Hart, who both left). This helped drive many WWF wrestlers to its only major competition, World Championship Wrestling (WCW), between 1993 and 1996. During this time period, WWF promoted itself as "The New WWF Generation" which was led by Shawn Michaels, Diesel, Razor Ramon, Bret Hart, and The Undertaker. In an effort to promote them and other young talent as the new superstars of the ring WWF began to play on the age restrictions which former WWF wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage (who by now were working for WCW) now faced. This is best seen in the Billionaire Ted parodies of 1996 (a reference to WCW's owner and patron, media mogul Ted Turner) which culminated in a "rasslin" match during the warm-up to WrestleMania XII.
The Attitude Era
During the 1990s wrestling boom, starting with Steve Austin's now infamous Austin 3:16 speech, shortly after defeating Jake Roberts in the tournament finals at the 1996 King of the Ring pay-per-view, the WWF moved away from its "family era" and began broadcasting more violence, swearing, and more edgy angles in its attempt to compete with WCW. After Bret Hart left for WCW following the infamous Montreal Screwjob incident, Vince McMahon used the resulting backlash in the creation of his "Mr. McMahon" character, a dictatorial and fierce ruler who favored heels who were "good for business" over "misfit" faces like Austin. This, in turn, led to the Austin vs. McMahon feud, which, along with the formation of D-Generation X, laid the foundation for the Attitude Era. The Attitude Era also featured the established Monday Night Wars, where both WCW and the WWF had Monday night shows that competed against each other in the ratings.
On April 29, 1999, the WWF made its return to terrestrial television by launching a special program known as SmackDown! on the fledgling UPN network. The Thursday-night show became a weekly series on August 26, 1999.
On the back of the success of the Attitude Era, on October 19, 1999 the WWF's parent company, Titan Sports (by this time renamed World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc.) became a publicly traded company, offering 10 million shares priced at $17 each. WWF announced its desire to diversify, including creating a nightclub in Times Square, producing feature films, and book publishing.
In 2000 the WWF, in collaboration with television network NBC, announced the creation of the XFL, a new professional American football league that debuted in 2001. The league had surprisingly high ratings for the first few weeks, but initial interest waned and its ratings plunged to dismally low levels (one of its games was the lowest-rated primetime show in the history of American television). NBC walked out on the venture after only one season, but McMahon intended to continue alone. However, after UPN demanded that SmackDown! be cut by half an hour, McMahon shut down the XFL.
Acquisition of WCW and ECW
With the success of the Attitude Era, WCW's already shaky financial situation deteriorated even further. It only survived because Ted Turner retained control over it as a result of Turner Broadcasting System's merger with Time Warner. However, after Time Warner merged with AOL, Turner's power was considerably reduced, and the newly merged company decided to shed its dead weight, namely WCW which was now losing scores of millions of dollars each year. In March 2001, WWF Entertainment, Inc. acquired World Championship Wrestling, Inc. from AOL Time Warner for a number reported to be around $7 million. The assets of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), which had folded after filing for bankruptcy protection in April 2001, were purchased by WWE in mid-2003.
World Wrestling Entertainment
In 2000, the World Wildlife Fund (also WWF), an environmental organization now called the World Wide Fund for Nature, sued the World Wrestling Federation. A British court agreed that Titan Sports had violated a 1994 agreement which had limited the permissible use of the WWF initials overseas, particularly in merchandising.
On Sunday May 5, 2002, the company quietly changed all references on its website from "WWF" to "WWE", while switching the URL from WWF.com to WWE.com. The next day, a press release announced the official name change from World Wrestling Federation Entertainment, Inc. to World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., or WWE, and the change was publicized later that day during a telecast of Monday Night RAW, which emanated from the Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut. For a short time, WWE used the slogan "Get The 'F' Out". The company had also been ordered by court to stop using the old WWF Attitude logo on any of its properties and to censor all past references to WWF, as they no longer owned the copyrights to the initials WWF in 'specified circumstances'.
In April 2002, about a month before the name change, WWE decided to create two separate rosters, one on RAW, the other on SmackDown! due to the overabundance of talent left over from the Invasion storyline (which involved talent from the absorbed ECW and WCW rosters interacting in WWF storylines). This is known as the WWE Brand Extension. Following the Brand Extension, a yearly Draft Lottery was instituted to exchange members of each roster and generally refresh the lineups.
In August 2002, the company launched WWE Niagara Falls, a retail establishment in Niagara Falls, Ontario.
On May 26, 2006, WWE revived Extreme Championship Wrestling as its third brand. The new ECW program airs Tuesday nights, on the Sci Fi Channel.On February 23, 2010, ECW was replaced by WWE NXT.