I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it all started with a mouse – Walt Disney
Making his debut on November 18, 1928, we commemorate the birth of that ever-lovable mouse that was one a rabbit called Oswald. That’s right, it has been 90 years since the picture tube first brought the sights and sounds of that black and white mouse from New York called, Steamboat Willie. One man’s dream to bring happiness and laughter to everyone has built one of the largest empires in the world, based on a mouse. Some of you may have the same question that we did: Just how did a mouse start a multibillion-dollar empire that spans the globe and has his hands in just about everything imaginable? Well, let’s go find out…..
Before 1928, Walt and his long time friend, Ub Iwerks had created a character for their shorts named, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, when he was working for Charles Mintz of Universal Studios. Oswald was a hit for Walt and was going very well with audiences. Because of all his successes and popularity, Walt approached Mintz and requested a budget increase to be able to produce longer and better cartoons with Oswald. Mintz not liking the request, countered Walt with budget cuts, a decrease in Walt’s salary and to make things worse, revealed that he had secretly signed Walt’s employee to a new contract without him. This was a tough blow to Walt since he created Oswald for Universal, Mintz legally owned all rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and Walt had just lost people that he thought he could trust and count on. But here is where it all begins.
After Walt learning that he had lost his precious Rabbit Oswald and his staff, he was on the train ride back home from New York and started ideas of a new character. Walt and Iwerks went through many different characters, dogs, cats, there was even a cow and a horse that Walt dismissed, but would later turn up in the animated shorts as Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar. Finally, Walt got an idea from a tame mouse that was in his office at the Laugh-O-Gram studio in Missouri and Hugh Harman drew some sketches of a mouse around a picture of Walt in his office. Iwerks noticed these drawings and started sketching what would be the birth of the new Walt Disney character, Mortimer Mouse. Wait, what? Mortimer Mouse? That’s right, Mickey’s original name from Walt was Mortimer but Walt’s wife, Lillian, wouldn’t have it. She convinced Walt to change his name to Mickey and there began, Mickey Mouse.
Mickey didn’t have an east beginning though. Mickey had his first screening in the short, Plane Crazy, on May 15, 1928 but it failed to impress the audiences and Walt could not find one person or company willing to distribute the short. After much disappointment, Walt started to create the second Mickey short, The Gallopin’ Gaucho, that once again, due to lack of interest found no distributor. While many people were urging Walt to scrap Mickey Mouse at this point with two failures, Walt could still see something special in his mouse and went on to create a third Mickey short, Steamboat Willie. Steamboat Willie was first released in New York City on November 18, 1928 and was a huge hit. Since this was the first Mickey film to find a distributor, it is considered by the Disney Company as the debut and birth of Mickey Mouse.
From his New York debut in 1928 Mickey Mouse has evolved through the years. The time period from 1929 through 1935 is known as the “Black and White Film Years”. In 1929 we see Mickey wearing his white gloves for the first time in the film, The Opry House. This was one of the first changes of Mickey since Steamboat Willie. Mickey’s popularity continued to rise during this time period and by 1932, Walt’s “Mickey Mouse Club” would have over one million members. To bring success even more in 1932, at the 5th Academy Awards, Mickey received his first Academy Award nomination for, Mickey’s Orphans.
The time period from 1935 through 1953 is known as the “Color Film Years”. Mickey finally receives color to his character in, The Band Concert, in 1935. In 1939, Mickey had his next noticeable transformation with adding white to his eyes in the film, The Pointer and then in 1940 Mickey had his first full length feature film, Fantasia with his role as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. This film lead us to the more modern Mickey that we started to see on the TV.
After the 1950’s came the television and films era. Mickey fans would see Mickey start to appear in many different cartoon shorts as well as full length Mickey films. This is also the time when Mickey would finally get a home. On July 17, 1955 Mickey helped to open Disneyland in Anaheim California and then Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida on October 1, 1971. Mickey would have several friends to join him during these years, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto and a whole cast of other characters.
Mickey Mouse has shown us over the last 90 years that it doesn’t matter how small you start out, anything is possible. And as Walt Disney always said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them”.