Walt Disney: The Birth of an Empire

Awhile back, when I asked what everyone would like to see here on the Unofficial Disney Blog, some of you mentioned that you’d like to see some articles on Walt Disney and how he brought his visions to life. I think this is an excellent idea as, without Walt Disney, this blog and its subject wouldn’t even exist.

Walt Disney is an example of perseverance and belief in yourself and your dreams. Not a son of a prosperous family, Walt Disney was born in a simple, two-story home in Chicago, Ill in 1901. Worried that his sons and daughter would grow up in a metropolis that was becoming more and more riddled with crime, Elias Disney moved his family to Marceline, Missouri, where he purchased a 40 acre farm. The town was a far cry from the hustle and bustle of turn-of-the-century Chicago and gave Walt his love of small town U.S.A. In essence, it was these early days that eventually gave birth to the familiar landscape of Main Street, U.S.A. that greets visitors as they enter any of the Magic Kingdom parks across the globe.

Magic Kingdom

As Walt prepared to enter high school, the family moved back to Chicago and Walt became the staff cartoonist for the school paper, The Voice. After high school and a short stint overseas serving the Red Cross, Walt began to look for cartooning work at local papers. For every attempt he made to get a job, he was turned down. Finally, he procured a job for a design company designing brochures, newspaper ads, and theatre programs.

Eventually, after a number of years working in design, Disney began working for a company by the name of Kansas City Film Ad Service. It was here that he first came upon the art of animation. Convincing his boss to let him use one of the company’s film cameras, he created his first cartoons and began a series of films titled, “Laugh-O-Gram” cartoons. Having trouble getting steady work in Kansas City, Walt moved to California.

Walt had much success with a series of short, silent films using a combination of animation and live action that were based around the story of Alice in Wonderland. It was during this time that Walt had enough money from the Alice series to begin working on a new character, Oswald the Rabbit. Oswald featured big ears, large friendly eyes and black oval nose. Walt, excited about the work he and his animators had done on Oswald, traveled to New York to secure a contract for more films. Once there, he realized that the company had secretly hired all but one of his animators and were taking over the Oswald series.

Unable to stop them once he realized he had signed away all rights to the distributor, Walt traveled back to California disappointed, betrayed, and devastated. Having no choice but to move onward, Walt shortened Oswald’s ears, prolonged his nose, and turned him from a rabbit to a mouse. He named the mouse, “Mickey”.

At the time, Walt had been toying with the idea of adding sound to his animations. After releasing two silent Mickey Mouse films, Walt released a third, “Steamboat Willie”, the first animation to ever be accompanied by sound.

The film was a hit and audiences couldn’t get enough of Mickey. Merchandising took off with Mickey Mouse dolls and watches. Mickey Mouse allowed other characters to join him including Donald Duck and Goofy and with the profits that Walt’s company was making from Mickey, Walt was able to explore more with animation including the first animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

It’s impossible to completely cover Walt’s beginnings in one blog entry. Looking back, however, it wasn’t only Disney’s innovation and imagination that made him successful, but perseverance. His life is a testament to anyone who believes what Disney preached to his imagineers, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”