Gulf and Western's prosaic origins date to a manufacturer named Michigan Bumper Co. founded in 1934, though Charles Bluhdorn treated his 1958 takeover of what was then Michigan Plating & Stamping as its "founding" for the purpose of later anniversaries.
Under Bluhdorn the company diversified widely, leaving behind things like stamping metal bumpers not only for communications properties like Paramount Pictures (1966) but also clothing (Kayser-Roth, which happened to own the Miss Universe pageant because it had bought Pacific Mills, which had invented the pageant to sell its Catalina brand of swimsuits), APS Holding Corp. auto parts, New Jersey Zinc (1966), the South Puerto Rico Sugar Company in La Romana, Dominican Republic (1967), the Associates First Capital Corporation, a financial services company (1968), Consolidated Cigars (1968), Sega (1969), Simon and Schuster (1975), Madison Square Garden (1977) and Simmons Bedding Company (1979).
The company also purchased Desilu Productions from Lucille Ball in 1967, which included most of Ball's television product, as well as such properties as Star Trek and Mission: Impossible (It and its successor companies would make millions on both series over the following decades with Star Trek's various hit follow-up TV projects and films, beginning in the late 1970s). On June 5, 1980, Gulf+Western unveiled an electric car, powered by a zinc chloride battery that would hold a charge for several hours and permit speeds of up to 60 miles per hour. By year's end, however, the U.S. Department of Energy (which had invested $15 million in the project) reported that the battery had 65% less power than predicted and could be recharged only by highly trained personnel.
In 1983 Bluhdorn died on a plane en route home from the sugar plantation to New York headquarters, and the board bypassed president David Judelson and named senior vice president Martin S. Davis, who had come up through Paramount Pictures, as the new Chief Executive Officer.
Davis slimmed down the company's wilder diversifications and focused it on entertainment, and sold all of its non-entertainment and non-publishing assets. In 1981, former officials of Gulf and Western's Natural Resources Division led a buyout of New Jersey Zinc and made it a subsidiary of Horsehead Industries, Inc. In 1983, Gulf & Western sold Consolidated Cigar Corporation to five of its senior managers. Also in 1983, Gulf+Western sold the U.S. assets of Sega to pinball manufacturer Bally Manufacturing Corporation. The Japanese assets of Sega were purchased by a group of investors led by David Rosen and Hayao Nakayama. South Puerto Sugar was sold to an investment group including The Fanjul Brothers in 1984. In 1985, APS auto parts, Kayser-Roth clothing and Simmons Bedding were sold to the Wickes Companies. The company restructured, subsequently renamed itself Paramount Communications in 1989, and promptly sold The Associates to the Ford Motor Company.
The top of the building sported a restaurant, which, however, was never a success. Similarly, the cinema space in the basement—named Paramount after the picture company that Gulf+Western owned—was closed as the building was sold.
Problems with the 45-story building's structural frame gave it unwanted fame as its base was scaffolded for years and the upper floors were prone to sway excessively on windy days, actually leading to cases of seasickness.
The 1997 renovation into a hotel and residential building, the Trump International Hotel & Tower (One Central Park West), by Costas Kondylis and Philip Johnson involved extensive renovation of both interior and facades. For example, the 45 stories of the original office tower were converted into a 52-story residential building, enabled by the lower ceiling height of residential spaces. The facade was converted with the addition of dark glass walls with distinctive shiny steel framing.
That same year, the company launched a $12.2 billion hostile bid to acquire Time, Inc. in an attempt to end a stock-swap merger deal between Time and Warner Communications. This caused Time to raise its bid for Warner to $14.9 Billion in cash and stock. The company responded by filing a lawsuit in a Delaware court to block the Time-Warner merger. The court ruled twice in favor of Time, forcing Gulf+Western to drop both the Time acquisition and the lawsuit, and allowing the formation of Time Warner.
Viacom split into two companies in 2006, one retaining the Viacom name (which continues to own Paramount Pictures), while another was named CBS Corporation (which now controls Paramount Television Group, which was renamed CBS Paramount Television in 2006, and Simon & Schuster). National Amusements retains majority control of the two.
Together, these two companies own many of the former media assets of Gulf+Western today. Meanwhile, the Madison Square Garden properties (including the Knicks and Rangers) were sold to Cablevision not long after the Viacom takeover. They are still owned by Cablevision today.
Another communications company, Western Gulf Media, was incorporated in Texas in 1994. This media company owns internet publications and on-line radio streams. It has no relationship with the former communications group mentioned above.