Walt’s Life in Kansas City

When the family moved to Kansas City, Elias bought a newspaper route, with Walt and Roy as his staff. Elias instilled a drive for perfection in them. Walt awoke at 3:30 in the morning, and Elias required him to place each and every paper behind the customer’s storm door, not on the lawn like others did. In the winter, his route drove Walt to cold tears more than once. Walt’s schooling was characterized mainly by him trying to stay awake.

Although Elias has often been described as a man who bounced from job to job, his newspaper route was very successful, and he began to invest money in a jelly firm from Chicago. The company, the O’Zell company planned to produce a carbonated, bottled beverage. Elias was convinced that these drinks had a big future, and he sold the paper route, and invested $16,000 in the factory. He became head of the plant’s construction and maintenance. This meant that the family had to move back to Chicago. The executives in charge of O’Zell were less than honest, and the company didn’t last long. Walt chose to stay behind for the summer when his parents moved to Chicago, and he stayed in the family home with Roy, and Herbert (who was now married with a two year old daughter, Dorothy). Roy decided that it would be educational for Walt to have a summer job selling newspapers and snacks at the Santa Fe Railroad. Walt loved the railroad. He didn’t pay much attention to the business end of the enterprise and wound up losing money though. When the summer was over, he moved to Chicago with his parents. Walt attended high school, but wanted to be a part of the War. He was too young, at 16, to join the military, but he heard that the Red Cross Ambulance Corps would accept 17 year olds, so he lied about his age, joined and started to train. After the war ended, Walt spent a year driving an ambulance, chauffeuring officers, playing poker and writing letters. He was never dishonorably discharged from the army, as a popular myth says—he was never IN the army! While he was in, he made money along with another young man by painting helmets with camouflage colors and banging them up, to make them look battle scarred. They sold these helmets to Americans who were looking for realistic souvenirs.

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