Walt Disney is an iconic figure in American history. His inspirational life was full of adversary and success.
Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois. But he did not consider Chicago his hometown. That title went to Marceline, Missouri where he spent his early childhood. Marceline had a great impact on Walt’s life, as he used the small town as inspiration for Main Street, USA in his parks and the setting of Lady and The Tramp.
Disney Goes Hollywood
In 1911, the Disney’s moved to Kansas City. They moved again in 1917 back to Chicago. Walt took art classes wherever he could.
During World War I, Walt became an ambulance driver for the Red Cross. When he returned to Kansas City in 1919, he opened his own cartoon studio, Laugh-O-Gram. Unfortunately, the business failed. So, Walt decided to move to Hollywood to with his brother, Roy, to join the growing film industry. There, they established another studio – Walt Disney Studios. Walt hired an ink artist named Lillian and the two later married.
Walt Disney Studios found success with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The small company sold the cartoon to Universal Studios for distribution. Walt soon discovered that Universal had complete control over Oswald – including his profits. They could make the cartoons with or without Walt.
It All Started With A Mouse
Defeated from his loss of Oswald, Walt took a train ride back home. It was then that Walt sketched what would be his most important and iconic character ever – Mickey Mouse.
Mickey debuted on November 18, 1928 in the short Steamboat Willie. The cartoon became an overnight success. Walt put his heart and soul into this character. He voiced the character himself in over 100 shorts and the film Fantasia. Since his debut, Mickey Mouse received two Academy Awards and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Walt loved Mickey, but soon he had a new dream for his studio: to produce Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which would be a full-length animated feature. But people weren’t too keen to see a movie-length cartoon. Critics dubbed the movie “Disney’s Folly” and predicted it to fail.
At the premiere showing of Snow White on December 25, 1937, the audience gave the movie a standing ovation. The movie broke sales records and received a special Academy Award.
After proving that animated movies could be successful, Disney dived into that realm and continued to produce films such as Pinocchio, Bambi and Dumbo.
The day after Pearl Harbor, the military took over the Walt Disney Studios and requested that they produce propaganda and training films. Walt himself designed a crest for the United States Navy and considered it his service to his country.
With their European market too busy at war to go to the movies and half of their animators drafted into the war, the Walt Disney Company was not turning a profit during this time. Short-staffed, the studios produced packaged films, which were a couple of shorts compiled together to equal the length of one full-length film. These lesser-known titles include The Three Caballeros and The Adventures of Mr. Toad and Ichabod Crane.
Even Miracles Take A Little Time
The Walt Disney Company was bankrupt by the end of the 40s. Disney decided to put every last penny the company – and he himself – had into making one more full-length film. This movie would decide the fate of the company. If it failed, the studio would have to shut down. That movie was Cinderella.
After Cinderella’s massive success, Walt Disney Animation Studios started releasing more movies like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, and Sleeping Beauty. With his film studio running smoothly again, Walt set his sights on another dream of his: his very own theme park.
On July 15, 1955 Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California. The park became massive success, attracting over 3 million visitors in its first year.
If there was a problem with Disneyland, it was its location. The small park became surrounded by other hotels and restaurants, barring the park from land expansion. There was simply not enough space for Disney to do everything he dreamed of. So he began planning another theme park in Orlando, Florida. But Walt would never see his Florida Project completed.
Walt Disney was a heavy smoker all throughout his adult life. He was diagnosed with cancer. Even on his deathbed, Disney was dreaming. He used the marks in the hospital ceiling to map out the Magic Kingdom. He passed away on December 15, 1966.
Although Walt died, his dreams didn’t. Roy came out of retirement to oversee the completion of the Florida Project. On opening day, Roy christened the park Walt Disney World, after his brother. He died a few weeks later.
Disney is an integral part in our culture. Not only have Disneyland and Walt Disney World grown, but new parks have been added overseas in Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Walt Disney World averages 52 million visitors a year. In 2010, Walt Disney Animation Studios released their 50th film, Tangled, and they are still producing more. More than 50 years after his death, Walt Disney continues to inspire artists, business owners, and dreamers alike.