Disney History

Walter Elias Disney

Walter Elias Disney was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1901. His family moved to the state of Missouri. He grew up on a farm there. At the age of sixteen, Disney began to study art in Chicago.

Four years later, he joined the Kansas City Film Ad Company. He helped make cartoon advertisements to be shown in movie theaters. Advertisements help sell products. In 1923, Walt Disney moved to Hollywood, California to join his brother Roy. He wanted to be a movie producer or director. But he failed to find a job. So he decided to make animated movies. In them, drawings are made to move in a lifelike way. We call them cartoons. Disney the artist wanted to bring his pictures to life.

Disney opened his first movie company in the back of an office. For several years, he struggled to earn enough money to pay his expenses. He believed that cartoon movies could be as popular as movies made with actors. To do this, he decided he needed a cartoon hero. Help for his idea came from an unexpected place.

Disney worked with Ub Iwerks, another young artist. They often saw mice running in and out of the old building where they worked. So they drew a cartoon mouse. It was not exactly like a real mouse. For one thing, it stood on two legs like a human. It had big eyes and ears. And it wore white gloves on its hands.

The artists called him "Mickey." Earlier filmmakers had found that animals were easier to use in cartoons than people. Mickey Mouse was drawn with a series of circles. He was perfect for animation. The public first saw Mickey Mouse in a movie called "Steamboat Willie." Walt Disney himself provided the voice for Mickey Mouse. The film was produced in 1928. It was a huge success.

Mickey Mouse appeared in hundreds of cartoons during the years that followed. He became known all over the world. In Japan, he was called "Miki Kuchi." In Italy, he was "Topolino." In Latin America, he was "Raton Miquelito."

Mickey soon was joined by several other cartoon creatures. One was the female mouse called "Minnie." Another was the duck named "Donald," with his sailor clothes and funny voice. And there was the dog called Pluto.

Mickey Mouse cartoons were extremely popular. But Walt Disney wanted to make other kinds of animated movies, too.

In the middle 1930s, he was working on his first long movie. It was about a lovely young girl, her cruel stepmother, and the handsome prince who saves her. It was "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

"Snow White" was completed in Nineteen-Thirty-Seven after three years of work. It was the first full-length animated movie to be produced by a studio. It became one of Hollywood's most successful movies.

Many movie experts say Disney's art of animation reached its highest point in Nineteen-Forty with the movie "Pinocchio." The story is about a wooden toy that comes to life as a little boy.

Disney 's artists drew two-and-one-half-million pictures to make "Pinocchio." The artists drew flat pictures. Yet they created a look of space and solid objects.

"Pinocchio" was an imaginary world. Yet it looked very real. Disney made other extremely popular animated movies in the Nineteen-Forties and Nineteen-Fifties. They include "Fantasia," "Dumbo," "Bambi," "Cinderella," "Alice in Wonderland," "Peter Pan," "Lady and the Tramp," and "Sleeping Beauty." These movies are still popular today.

In addition to cartoons, Walt Disney produced many movies and television programs with real actors. He also produced movies about wild animals in their natural surroundings.

In 1955, Walt Disney opened an entertainment park not far from Hollywood, California. He called it "Disneyland." He wanted it to be the happiest place on Earth.


Disneyland recreated imaginary places from Disney movies. It also recreated real places...as Disney imagined them. For example, one area looked like a nineteenth-century town in the American West. Another looked like the world of the future.

Disneyland also had exciting rides. Children could fly on an elephant. Or spin in a teacup. Or climb a mountain. Or float on a jungle river. And -- best of all -- children got to meet Mickey Mouse himself. Actors dressed as Mickey and all the Disney cartoon creatures walked around the park shaking hands.

Disneyland was so successful that Disney developed plans for a second entertainment and educational park to be built in Florida. The project, Walt Disney World, opened in Florida in 1971. After Disney's death. The man who started it all, Walt Disney, died in 1966. But the company he began continues to help people escape the problems of life through its movies and entertainment parks.

This is just a short version of a very interesting life. For a more detailed version of the Walt Disney Story we encourage the reading of "Walt's Story" at the Disney Museum online Click Here for the whole story. 

Ub Iwerks

Ub Iwerks was born in Kansas City, Missouri on March 24, 1901. While that's when his life started, the real adventure began in 1919 when at the age of 18, Iwerks got a job working for a company called Pesman-Rubin Commercial Art Studio. His job was to use the artistic skills he had mastered while growing up to produce work for Pesman-Rubin clients. Soon more people were being hired, including a young man named Walt Disney. It wasn't long before Iwerks and Disney formed a bond. Iwerks was a highly talented artist that was shy and reserved while Disney was a visionary idea man who was very outgoing and business minded.

Less than a year after meeting, Iwerks and Disney joined together and formed a company, in 1920, called Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists. The venture was short lived, however, as Walt went to work for the Kansas City Film Ad Company for more money. It wasn't long before Disney had convinced Kansas City Film Ad Company that it also needed the talents of Ub Iwerks. Iwerks was hired.

During this time period, both showed a strong interest in animation, which was still in its early stages. The work of Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur really caught their attention and inspired Iwerks and Disney to study animation techniques further.

The friendship that Iwerks and Disney shared, while working for the Kansas City Film Ad Company, often led to practical jokes instigated by Disney at Iwerks expense.

According to the book Walt Disney: A Biography by Barbara Ford, "In spite of his skills, Ub remained the same shy, inarticulate, serious young man he had been when Walt first met him. He was extremely nervous around young women. Ub's personality made him a natural foil for confident Walt's practical jokes. At Kansas City Film Ad Company, Walt would send Ub postcards signed with girls' names, lock him in the washroom so that he had to hammer on the door to get out, and smuggle animals into his desk and locker. Ub never complained."

Such incidents showed the fun and innocent times that Iwerks and Disney shared not only as coworkers, but also as close friends. Each person's strengths complimented the other one's weaknesses. Both were close enough that deals between them were sealed with a handshake instead of a written contract.

Disney's continual need to try a new challenge led him to form a company called Laugh-O-gram Films and he was able to convince Iwerks to join the team. But the money didn't come in with Disney's new venture, so Iwerks left Laugh-O-gram Films and returned to Kansas City Film Ad Company. Iwerks still helped Disney out on projects, but when Disney was forced to declare bankruptcy, Iwerks was left with very little payment for his services. Disney decided to take his talents to California and Ub, being Disney's closest friend, saw him off at the train station.

While Disney went off on new adventures, Iwerks remained in Kansas City faithfully working for the Kansas City Film Ad Company. But it wasn't long before Iwerks received word from Disney that his services were needed in California.

In 1924, Iwerks moved to California to join forces again with Disney who had formed Disney Brothers Productions (later changed to Walt Disney Studios). Iwerks was paid less money, but received 20% ownership in Disney Brothers Productions as additional compensation.


Iwerks was put in charge of a cartoon that quickly became very popular for its time "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit." The popularity of the Oswald series and greed of the distributor, Charlie Mintz, led to a dispute over ownership rights. Charlie Mintz won. In addition, nearly all of Disney's animators deserted him for Mintz. One of the few to remain was the faithful Ub Iwerks. Iwerks loyalty created a bond of trust that very few people ever held with Disney.

Soured by the Oswald rabbit events, Disney came up with a new character idea Mickey Mouse. Together, Disney and Iwerks developed the idea and personality for Mickey Mouse. Iwerks was then given the task of bringing Mickey Mouse to life. Suddenly a new Hollywood star was born.

Iwerks was Disney's right hand man in the creation of the early Mickey Mouse cartoons. Disney would come up with the ideas, stories, and motivations, then Iwerks would bring it to life. Bringing Mickey Mouse to life, however, was no easy task and it required Iwerks to spit out 600 drawings every single day. Iwerks dedication, however, would soon payoff for him and Disney. The third Mickey Mouse cartoon that Disney directed and Iwerks animated, "Steamboat Willie," would be the one that would catapult Mickey and Disney into stardom and household names.

Iwerks often didn't get the public credit he deserved, but that didn't stop him from continuing as a master animator and the best artist at Disney Brothers Productions. Even Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston say in the book, "The Illusion of Life" that Iwerks was "in a class by himself" when it came to animating. It wasn't long before Iwerks was put in charge of training new animators. This was both a blessing and curse for him and those he was training. It was a blessing because Iwerks demanded perfection and was able to help breed some of Disney's best animators. It was a curse because Iwerks had a short temper and it showed often against those who didn't give projects 110% or for those that didn't fully appreciate the art of animation. But the result was better animators.

Disney and Iwerks were a perfect match. Disney was the story expert and visionary while Iwerks was the master animator who breathed life into Disney's creations.

However, something was about to happen that would forever alter their relationship.

It started with a man named Pat Powers who negotiated a one year distribution deal with Disney in which Powers would pay Disney Brothers Productions $2,500 per Mickey Mouse cartoon and would receive 10% of the gross earnings. Ub Iwerks continued to be the lead animator for Mickey Mouse and worked long hours, with several other artists, in order to get cartoons made so that Powers could sell them. During these long sessions, Iwerks often received the brunt end of Disney's anger and frustration. The situation deteriorated further when Powers failed to deliver full payment to the Disney Brothers Productions, claiming that expenses were eating it all. This frustrated Disney more and the tension was showing. For Iwerks, the job was less enjoyable. And now Iwerks had a secret that would break his bond with Disney forever.

Ub Iwerks had signed a secret pact with Powers.

Walt Disney was absolutely devastated.

The unbreakable bond and trust the two had shared since the age of 18 was now forever severed.

Having signed a contract with Pat Powers, Iwerks went to work for the man who had withheld money from Disney Brothers Productions.

In the meantime, Disney Brothers Productions bought out Iwerks 20% ownership. Disney refused to renew the contract with Powers and he parted ways with Iwerks.

Disney never rewarded those who burned him or broke his trust, even if it meant losing a lot of money. It is estimated that Disney lost close to $150,000 in his one-year contract with Powers money that Powers said he would pay if Disney extended his contract. Disney wouldn't budge, even though he no longer had Iwerks.

For Iwerks, it was too late for second thoughts. He was no longer a part of Disney's inner circle and he was no longer in charge of Mickey Mouse.

But this wasn't the end of Iwerks career. He was determined to show the world that there was more to his name than a famous mouse.


Ub Iwerks, born on March 24, 1901, in Kansas City, Missouri was one of the most influential artists and animators that Walt Disney ever worked with. Ub and Walt first met at the Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Art Studio in 1920. Iwerks and Disney worked together on two early start-ups before both moved to Los Angeles. Ub is credited with sketching Mickey Mouse for the first time in the "Silly Symphony" series. Leaving Disney in 1930 to start his own company, Ub returned ten years later to re-ignite the partnership.

Ub's technical achievements in animation, photography and printing earned him two Academy Awards and propelled the Disney Studios to the forefront in photographic and animation effects.

Ub Iwerks died on July 7, 1971 and was named a Disney Legend in 1989.

The Nine Old Men

President Franklin D. Roosevelt called his Supreme Court the "nine old men."  As a joke, Walt Disney named his earliest key animators by the same term.  Here are the original "Nine Old Men" of the Walt Disney Company:

Les Clark

Les Clark
(1907 - 1979)  The first of the "nine old men," Mr. Clark joined Walt Disney in 1927. Later, he worked on educational films, and he retired from Disney.  He died in 1979.  He was named a Disney Legend ten years after his death.

Les Clark was born in Ogden, Utah, in 1907. At the young age of 20, Les joined the Disney Ink and Paint Department and spent the next 48 years animating and directing for Walt Disney.

Les was one of the first animators of Mickey Mouse starting with "Steamboat Willie". His animation career continued with films "Pinocchio", "Dumbo", "101 Dalmations", "Cinderella", "Alice in Wonderland" and "Peter Pan" to name a few. Les went on to direct films and television specials for Walt Disney. Over the years Les constantly worked to improve his skills and advance the techniques and capabilities of the Disney Studios.

Les Clark was named a Disney Legend in 1989.


Marc Davis

Marc Davis (1913-2000)  Mr. Davis began working with Disney in 1935, during the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  He developed and animated many of the best-remembered characters, including Bambi, Thumper, and Cruella DeVil.  He played a significant role in the development of the story and characters for many "E-Ticket" rides, including the Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean.  He formally retired in 1978, but remained active with the development at attractions at EPCOT and Tokyo Disneyland.  He died on 12 January 2000, after a brief illness.

If you know Tinker Bell, Maleficent, Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Cruella De Vil, then you know a little bit of Marc Davis, one of Walt Disney's legendary 'Nine Old Men'. Hired as an apprentice animator at Disney in 1935, Marc's 43-year career at Walt Disney is a remarkable legacy of animation, and later, imagineering magic. Here are some of Marc's milestone contributions:

Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs (1937) - Assistant Animator

Bambi (1942) - Animator

Victory Through Air Power (1943) - Character Design

Song Of The South (1946) - Directing Animator

Fun And Fancy Free (1947) - Animator

 So Dear To My Heart (1949) - Cartoon Story Treatment

The Adventures Of Ichabod & Mr. Toad (1949) - Animator

Cinderella (1950) - Directing Animator

Alice In Wonderland (1951) - Directing Animator

Peter Pan (1953) - Directing Animator

Sleeping Beauty (1959) - Directing Animator

101 Dalmatians (1961) - Directing Animator

As a Disney Imagineer, Marc's creative leadership was utilized in such world-famous Disney Theme Park attractions as Pirates Of The Caribbean, Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, The Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, Country Bear Jamboree, America Sings and Its A Small World.

The incredible creative magic of Marc Davis has touched the lives of millions of movie-goers and theme park enthusiasts...his humor and spirit will leave an indelible mark for millions more.

 He was honored as a Disney Legend in 1989.

Ollie Johnston

Ollie Johnston  Mr. Johnston graduated from Stanford University.  In 1935, he was an animator for the Studio at the Walt Disney Company, where he worked on two dozen films, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  He retired in 1978, and was honored as a Disney Legend in 1989.  His life was the subject of a documentary, with Frank Thomas, in a 1995 film called  
Frank and Ollie.

Ollie Johnson, one of Walt Disney's legendary "Nine Old Men", was born on October 31, 1912, in Palo Alto, California. Attending Stanford and then graduating from Chouinard Art Institute, he joined the Disney Studios in 1935.

Over the years, he animated and directed over twenty four features including "Snow White", "Fantaisa", "Cinderella", "Lady and the Tramp", "Alice in Wonderland", and "Sleeping Beauty". His art was most apparent in the friendship between Baloo and Mowgli as well as Sir Hiss and Prince John. After 43 years with the Disney Studios, he retired in 1978. He has co-authored four books with Ollie Johnson, including the definitive book on Disney annimation - "The Illusion of Life".

Ollie Johnson was named a Disney Legend in 1989.

Milt Kahl

Milt Kahl (1909 - 1987)  Like the other "nine old men," Mr. Kahl was an animator and started at Disney in 1934.  He was a Directing Animator for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as is recalled as one of the finest animators ever to work with Disney.  Mr. Kahl died two years before being recognized as a Disney Legend in 1989.

Milt Kahl, one of Walt Disney's legendary "Nine Old Men", was born in San Francisco, California, in 1909. At 25, Milt joined the Walt Disney Studios and spent the next 42 years drawing and animating for Walt Disney.

Never completing a formal art education, his talents were observed by other Disney illustrators and animators such that Disney placed Milt in charge of the most difficult assignments. Over the years, Milt helped bring to life "Pinocchio", "Peter Pan", "Alice" of Alice in Wonderland, the "Prince" in Sleeping Beauty, and worked on full feature animated classics "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad", "Cinderella", "101 Dalmatians" and "The Jungle Book" among others.

Milt Kahl retired from Disney in 1976 and passed away in 1987.

In 1989, Milt Kahl was named a Disney Legend.

Ward Kimball 

Ward Kimball  Mr. Kimball joined Disney in 1934, and is best remembered for his creation of Jiminy Cricket in the movie, Pinocchio.  He worked in a variety of areas for the Walt Disney Company, and his love of trains not only started Walt on the hobby, but was reflected in his work as a consultant for the EPCOT attraction, The World of Motion.  

Ward Kimball, one of Walt Disney's legendary "Nine Old Men", was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on March 4, 1914. At the young age of 20, Ward joined the Walt Disney Studios and spent the next 38 years drawing, animating and directing for Disney.

Some of the most memorable characters that Ward brought to life include Jiminy Cricket in "Pinocchio", Tweedledee and Tweedledum in "Alice in Wonderland" and Lucifer in "Cinderella". During his career, Ward directed two Academy Award winning short subject films, directed films for television and a live-action musical. Ward Kimball retired from Disney in 1972.

A fan of jazz and trains, Ward started the Dixieland jazz band "Firehouse Five plus Two" and operates a full size locomotive on his ranch - Grizzly Flats.

In 1989, Ward Kimball was named a Disney Legend.

Eric Larson

Eric Larson (1905-1988)  Mr. Larson shared a birthday (September 3rd) with Yale Gracey, one of the lead designers of the Haunted Mansion.  Mr. Larson began at Disney in 1933, animating most of the Disney classics including Snow White..., and Cinderella.  His good humor and expertise made him not only an executive in the training program for new animators in the 1970's, he was also a well-loved mentor.  His death in 1988 was a tremendous loss to all.

Eric Larson, one of Walt Disney's legendary "Nine Old Men", was born in Cleveland, Utah, in 1905. He graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Utah. Traveling around the United States, Eric landed in Los Angeles doing freelance work. Submitting his sketches to Disney Studios on advice from a friend changed his world from writing to animating forever.

Over the years he worked on "Snow White", "Fantasia", "Cinderella", "Bambi", "Sleeping Beauty", "The Jungle Book" as well as twenty short subject films and six television specials. A mentor to many young Disney animators, Eric preserved and guided the Disney legacy of animation for generations to come.

After 52 years with Disney, he retired in 1986.

Eric Larson was named a Disney Legend in 1989.

John Lounsbery

John Lounsbery (1911-1976)  Mr. Lounsbery began his career at the Studio in 1935, working on the classic features starting with Snow White...  He died in February 1976.

John Lounsbery, one of Walt Disney's legendary "Nine Old Men", was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on March 9, 1911. He graduated from the Art Institute of Denver, in 1932. Moving to Los Angeles, he submitted his work to the Disney Studios and joined the animation team in 1935.

His character animation work included Ben Ali of "Fantasia", Honest John in "Pinocchio", Timothy in "Dumbo" and Tony in "Lady and the Tramp". Moving into the role of Animation Director, he worked on "Alice in Wonderland", "Peter Pan", "Sleeping Beauty" and 'Winnie the Pooh" to name a few.

His untimely death occurred in 1976, while working for Disney on "The Rescuers".

John Lounsbery was named a Disney Legend in 1989.

Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman

Wolfgang "Woolie" Reitherman
(1909 - 1985)  Mr. Reitherman joined Disney in 1935, as an animator and director.  He is best remembered as a director for Sleeping Beauty, and as the director fully in charge of The Sword in the Stone.  He directed and produced all of Disney's animated features after the death of Walt Disney, until Mr. Reitherman retired in 1980.  

Wolfgang Reitherman, one of Walt Disney's legendary "Nine Old Men", was born in Munich Germany, on June 26, 1909. The family left Germany for the United States when he was an infant and he was raised in Sierra Madre, California. Attending Pasadena Junior College, he worked briefly for Douglas Aircraft. In 1931, he enrolled at Chouinard Art Institute and joined the Disney Studios in 1933.

After a brief tour in World War II earning a distinguished medal of honor with the U.S. Air Force, Wolfgang returned to the Studios contributing to over thirty Disney animation films and winning an Academy Award. A driving force and strong leader after Disney's death, Wolfgang retired after 50 years with the Disney Studios.

Wolfgang Reitherman died on May 22, 1985 and was named a Disney Legend in 1989.

Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas  Mr. Thomas was both an animator and author, ceaselessly creative in both fields of endeavor.  As an animator, he joined the Studio in 1934 and worked on many early shorts.  Later, working on the classics, he created memorable scenes, such as Bambi and Thumper on the ice, and the Lady and the Tramp moments where the couple are eating spaghetti.  Mr. Thomas retired from Disney in 1978, but continued to work prolifically as an author, sometimes in partnership with his old friend (and fellow member of the "nine old men"), Ollie Johnston.  Their books include the ultimate animation classic, Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life.  His life was the subject of a documentary, with Ollie Johnston, in a 1995 film called  
Frank and Ollie.

Frank Thomas, one of Walt Disney's legendary "Nine Old Men", was born on September 5, 1913, and was raised in Fresno, California. Graduating from Stanford, Frank then attended Chouinard Art Institute. A fellow classmate mentioned an opening at the Disney Studios and Frank joined Disney as employee number 224.

Over the years, Frank worked on over twenty features including "Pinocchio", "Peter Pan", "Cinderella", "The Jungle Book", "101 Dalmations" as well as numerous short films. After nearly 45 years with the Disney Studios, he retired in 1978. He has co-authored four books with Ollie Johnson, including the definitive book on Disney annimation - "The Illusion of Life".

A member of the Firehouse Five Plus Two, Frank Thomas was named a Disney Legend in 1989.

More History Coming Soon