What do you think of when you think of Walt Disney?
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?
Wait! You don’t think of his childhood home in northern Missouri? Can’t say that I blame you. Most people wouldn’t. But in reality, Walter Elias Disney was a Midwest boy through and through.
Born in Chicago in 1901, Disney spent his most formidable years in Missouri—on a farm in Marceline and in Kansas City. It was in Kansas City that Walt Disney learned about the artform that would make him famous—animation.
After serving in World War I (even though he was underage), Disney returned to the States. Against his father’s wishes, he moved to Kansas City and began a studio to sell his first animated cartoons called Laugh-O-Grams. Although he enjoyed minor success in KC, he knew he’d have to move to New York or California to really make it in the industry. Since his brother, Roy, lived in California he went there. He and his brother started Disney Brothers Studio and later changed the name to Walt Disney Studios. His brother didn’t’ have any artistic ability, but he was good at running the company and supporting Walt’s dreams. Walt hired other artists, including his future wife, to draw the cartoons.
He created a mixed media film of Alice In Wonderland, where a live-action Alice finds herself in a cartoon world. Just as he finished the film, his studio went bankrupt. Rights to Alice In Wonderland were eventually purchased and other short films commissioned for sale to theatres.
His first successful cartoon character was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, created for another company. Seeing the success of Oswald, the company decided to hire away Walt’s cartoonists and cut him out of the deal. Walt realized he needed to control his cartoons himself instead of selling them, so he created Mickey Mouse.
Mickey’s original name was Mortimer Mouse, but Walt’s wife thought the name too stuffy and came up with the name Mickey. (Mortimer eventually became a nemesis for Mickey who tried to steal Minnie’s affections.)
The popularity of Mickey Mouse and the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs catapulted Disney into fame and fortune.
After numerous Academy Awards and years of running a successful studio, Walt decided to branch out. His daughters loved amusement parks, but the parks of the time were dirty and not terribly safe. Disneyland opened in 1955 with Main Street USA patterned after his childhood home, Marceline, Missouri.