Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois to Elias Disney and Flora Call Disney. Walt was one of five children. His three older brothers were Herbert, Raymond, and Roy. His younger sister was Ruth.
When Walt was five years old, his family moved to a farm in Missouri. At the age of nine, they moved to Kansas City, where his father bought a Kansas City Star newspaper route. Walt and his older brother, Roy delivered newspapers. Walt loved to draw, and he even sold sketches to his neighbors at the age of seven. As a teenager, Walt attended high school dividing his time between drawing and photography. At night, he attended the Academy of Fine Arts.
At sixteen, when Roy joined the army during World War I, Walt tried to join, too. However, he was underage, so he changed the date on his birth certificate and was sent overseas by the Red Cross where he drove an ambulance for them.
Walt returned to Kansas City after the War, where he began working as an advertising cartoonist. Eventually, Walt joined his brother, Roy in Los Angeles where they opened a business together making animated films. They called it Disney Brothers Studio. It was later renamed Walt Disney Studio
It was here that Walt met his future wife, Lillian Bounds. She was one of his first employees at the studio. They married on July 13, 1925.
Walt and Roy continued to produce cartoons, but it wasn’t until Walt came up with the idea of a cartoon mouse that could talk and sing that they had a hit. Walt wanted to call his new creation “Mortimer Mouse”; however, Lilly, as Walt called his wife, suggested “Mickey”.
And so it was that on November 18, 1928, “Mickey Mouse” was born. He first appeared on this date in Steamboat Willie, the world’s first sound cartoon. Mickey Mouse became a star, and Disney was now a big success. The world could not get enough of Disney cartoons. Soon Walt added some new friends for Mickey; his girlfriend, Minnie Mouse, and his dog, Pluto.
In the years to follow, Walt and Lilly had more happy news, they were having a baby. Unfortunately, Lilly’s first two pregnancies ended in miscarriages. However, this time would be different, and on December 18, 1933, Diane Marie Disney was born. It would be years later in January 1937, that Walt and Lilly would add another child to their small family. Lilly once again miscarried, and she and Walt adopted a two-week old baby girl, Sharon Mae Disney, who was born on December 21, 1936.
It was obvious that Walt Disney loved his family. He showed his love by being interested, involved, and always there for his family and friends. He once said, “A man should never neglect his family for business.” And his oldest daughter, Diane was quoted as saying, “Daddy never missed a father’s function no matter how I discounted it. I’d say, ‘Oh, Daddy, you don’t need to come. It’s just some stupid thing.’ But he’d always be there, on time.”
On December 21, 1937, Disney became even more of a success when Walt released Disney’s first full-length animated movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It broke all box-office records. Walt was now an established filmmaker. During the next five years, Walt completed other great films such as Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi.
During 1937-1938, Roy and Walt moved their parents to Southern California, and on November 26, 1938, Flora Disney passed away due to gas fumes in their home from a faulty furnace. Walt and Roy blamed themselves, and the terrible guilt of this haunted them for the rest of their lives.
Walt continued to bring Disney cartoons to the world, and soon he was coming into the home of Americans with a weekly television series presented by ABC in 1954. He had become a television pioneer.
And on July 17, 1955, Walt Disney became an even bigger success when he opened his first amusement park in California. He called it Disneyland. It had long-since been a dream of Walt’s to build a place where families could play together in a clean, organized amusement park. Walt can be quoted as saying, “We believed in our idea – a family park where parents and children could have fun together.” Walt wanted people to feel they were in a special place. He stated, “I don’t want the public to see the world they live in while they’re in the Park. I want them to feel they’re in another world.”
Around 1958, Walt Disney decided that he would like to build another Disneyland, but to the East this time. He and Roy decided on Florida, with Orlando being the ideal location; this would come to be known as the “Florida Project”. Between 1964-1965, Walt purchased 27,000 acres in Florida. When it was discovered that Walt Disney was the one buying the property there, land prices went up considerably.
In 1966, Walt began to experience many health problems, but it didn’t keep him from overseeing his Florida project. He decided that this new Disneyland would be called Disney World. Walt worked even closer with his brother, Roy, and he even began work on a new animated film, The Jungle Book. However, Walt would never see it finished. In November 1966, Walt underwent surgery in which cancer was removed from one of his lungs. He carried on with his business as long as he could, but on December 15, 1966, Walter Elias Disney passed away. A private funeral was held for him with only his immediate family present. Roy issued a statement expressing everyone’s loss. Flags flew half-staff at Disneyland, and everyone mourned this great man.
After Walt’s death, Roy took charge of the Disney Company and the Florida project. He promised his wife that once he completed Walt’s dream that he would retire. He renamed Disney World to Walt Disney World. He said it would include Walt’s name so that everyone would always remember that it was Walt’s dream. And so it was that Walt Disney World opened on October 1, 1971.
Roy O. Disney, however, was not able to keep his promise to his wife, as he joined his younger brother in death on December 20, 1971.
Walt Disney was a great man. He gave us so much in his lifetime. His ideas, his values, his imagination will never again be matched. Walt brought us animation, creativity, music, television, and entertainment; but most importantly, he brought us closer together with our families; he brought us happiness! His countless contributions to the film industry are beyond comparison. He gave us over forty-three years of magic, and it still lives on today. Walter Elias Disney is an American legend.
Let us never forget Walt’s words,
“I hope we never lose sight of one thing –
That it all was all started by a mouse.”