Everyone knows who Walt Disney was. He is an American cultural icon. His cartoons and characters can be found in every corner of the earth. He was a lifelong Republican. He started from very humble beginnings. He was born in the Hermosa neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois, one of five children. He grew up in Marceline, Missouri. It was here that he started to draw and paint, selling his work to neighbors and friends. Later, his family moved to Kansas City. His uncle was a train engineer and it was here that he developed his lifelong love of trains. In Kansas City, he was introduced to vaudeville and motion pictures by a childhood friend’s family. Soon, he was spending most of his free time with this family as well as taking Saturday classes at the Kansas City Art Institute.
Disney’s father purchased a newspaper route. Walt and his brother Roy woke up at 4:30 am to deliver papers until school started and repeated the routine again at 4:00 pm delivering the evening paper. He and his brother worked the paper route for six years. As a result, Walt Disney did not do well in school and frequently dozed off in class.
In 1917, Disney’s father bought shares in the O-Zell jelly factory out of Chicago and he moved the family back to Chicago. Disney continued his education taking night courses at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts while attending high school during the day. He dropped out of high at age 16, hoping to join the army during WWI, but was rejected for being too young. He later joined the Red Cross and was sent to France as an ambulance driver.
Two years later, Disney moved back to Kansas City hoping to find work outside of the jelly factory. He was unable to find employment as either a cartoonist or an ambulance driver. His brother Roy was working at a local bank. He got Walt a temporary job creating ads for newspapers, magazines and movie theaters. This is where Disney met cartoonist Ubbe Iwerks.
After their contract expired, Disney and Iwerks started their own company Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists. They had a rough start, so Disney left and started working at the Kansas City Film Ad Company. Iwerks followed as he was unable to continue the company alone. It was here that Disney acquired the taste for animation. He bought a camera, a book on making cartoons and experimented at home. He decided then that cell animation was the future. He started his own animation company with one employee, Fred Harmen, a co-worker from Ad Company.
They started creating “Laugh-O-Grams” cartoons based on Aesop’s Fables. The cartoons were screened at a very popular local theater owned by Frank Newman. These cartoons became hits in the Kansas City area. As a result of the success of these cartoons, Disney was able to acquire his own studio and hire additional animators, including his old friend Ubbe Iwerks. Unfortunately, the cartoons were insufficient to sustain the studio and it went bankrupt. It was here that Walt Disney decided to move to the entertainment capital of Hollywood along with his brother Roy, to start over.
Disney and his brother Roy pooled their money and started their cartoon studio “The Disney Brothers Studio” two months after arriving in Hollywood. Iwerks moved from Kansas City to Hollywood with his family at Disney’s request as did action star Virginia Davis. This was the beginning of the Disney magic. The rest is history!
Photo via d23.com