A wise man once said, “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” That man was Walt Disney. Disney had a dream, and he wanted to entertain people, and create a way for families to come together to make memories. He inspired laughter, whimsy, and the feeling that you’re never too old to have fun. Although Disney earned more success that he probably ever thought was possible, the road to that success was definitely not the easiest.
Walter Elias Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Hermosa, Illinois. He had three brothers and one sister. In 1911, the Disney family moved to Kansas City, and while living there, young Disney realized his fascination with trains. He would later place several trains throughout his theme park in California. As a child, some of his hobbies included acting, art, and performing. During his high school career, he became very invested in his photography and drawing classes, and he even became one of the cartoonists for his school paper. At the age of sixteen, he dropped out of high school and tried to enlist in the military, but he was turned down because he was too young. Instead, he joined the Red Cross, and he was stationed in France. After one year of living there, he decided to move back to Kansas City.
When he moved back to Kansas City, Disney chose to seek a career as an artist for the local newspaper. After a few years of working there, he got a job offer from Pesmen-Rubin Art Studios through connections that he had through his brother. At Pesmen-Rubin, he had the opportunity to work alongside his colleague Ub Iwerks. Following that, he got a job at the Kansas City Film Ad Company. Disney began to explore animation and experiment with different types of cameras. Doing this type of work inspired him to create his own animation company with his former coworker Fred Harman. They named their company “Laugh-o-gram Studio” and they made animations that they called “Laugh-o-grams”. However, in 1923, Laugh-o-gram Studio was heavily buried in debt, and Disney had no other choice but to declare bankruptcy.
Instead of accepting defeat and giving up his dreams of entertaining people, Disney and his brother, Roy, decided to combine their money and they moved to Hollywood. Disney, Roy, and his colleague, Iwerks, created Disney Brothers’ Studio. Within a fairly short amount of time, they would receive a request from a company in New York for Disney’s first cartoon, Alice in Cartoonland. Later, this studio would be renamed to Walt Disney Studio.
In May of 1928, Disney’s first silent film, Plane Crazy, which was influenced by Charles Lindbergh’s first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, made its debut. This film originally came to life before the feature of sound had been introduced to the film industry, and it actually introduced one of Disney’s most beloved characters, Mickey Mouse. Disney said that the idea of this character came to him while he was riding on a train to California. However, this film failed to obtain distribution, so it was ultimately unsuccessful. Disney made another attempt in the film industry when he released Gallopin’ Gaucho, but again, this attempt was unsuccessful. In the late 1920s, sound was introduced to the industry and became a feature in just about every film.
In November of 1928, Steamboat Willie made its debut as the world’s first synchronized cartoon with sound. It was Disney’s very first film to earn success, and it was a huge hit. He was offered $1,000 for a two-week run, which was the highest sum of money that had been paid for a cartoon at that time.
On December 21, 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made its premiere as the first full-length animated film. This movie generated revenues of nearly $1.5 million and won eight Oscar Awards.
Throughout the next few years, Walt Disney Studios produced several more full-length animated films, which include Pinocchio in 1940, Fantasia in 1940, Dumbo in 1941, and Bambi in 1942.
After almost twenty years on planning and construction, Disneyland Park launched its opening day on July 17, 1955 in Anaheim, California. The park was built on a 160-acre orange grove. All of Disney’s bankers, friends, and family thought that they park would be a total bust, but he definitely proved them wrong. When the day of the grand opening finally arrived, there were several guest speakers and ceremonies, which included a benediction from a Protestant minister, the playing of the national anthem with military members raising the flag, and a flyover by the California Air National Guard. Ronald Reagan, Art Linkletter, and Bob Cummings hosted the television broadcast.
Disneyland cost a total of $17.5 million to construct and open. A ticket for one day at the park was $1 for adults and $0.50 for children. It consisted of five different parks, which included Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Main Street, USA, and Tomorrowland, and included twenty different attractions. In only seven weeks, attendance of guests reached one million. Disney’s inspiration for Disneyland was that he wanted to open a safe, clean park that he and his two daughters could enjoy. He incorporated the stories from his films into the park to make it more fun and appealing for the children.
On opening day, there were several problems that occurred throughout the day. For example, many of the children’s rides were closed and were not ready for operation. There were also many conflicts with the main attraction in Tomorrowland. Due to high temperatures, the concrete on Main Street melted into tar. The water surrounding the Mark Twain riverboat was overflowing and spilling onto the deck. One of the most problematic instances regarded guest attendance. The park was anticipating around fifteen thousand guests, and over twenty-eight thousand entered the park because counterfeit tickets had been circulating. Guests were even climbing over the fences and the walls. There was also a seven-mile backup in traffic on the freeway due to the volume of people trying to get in. And, all of the parks’ restaurants and food stands had completely run out of refreshments.
Over the past few decades, five other Disney parks have been opened around the world. They include the following, which are listed in order by size: Walt Disney World in Florida, Disneyland Paris, Disneyland Shanghai, Disneyland Anaheim, Disneyland Tokyo, and Disneyland Hong Kong. This can be seen displayed in Figure 1:
Over the years, The Walt Disney Company has become more and more successful, evolving into one of the largest and most well-known companies in the world. The revenue (in billions) that was generated from the company’s parks and resorts from 2012 to 2016 can be seen in Figure 2:
Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966 at sixty-five years old due to lung cancer. After his death, his brother Roy finished his plans to complete Walt Disney World in Florida, which officially opened in 1971.
From 1931 to 1963, Disney won thirty-two Academy Awards, which is the most awards that any individual has ever won. He also holds the record for the most nominations ever received. He truly was a pioneer in the film industry. He made new innovations by making animation come to life, creating cartoons in color, and adding sounds to cartoons. He created an entire empire based upon his animated films, and has become one of the most successful individuals in history. Even today, Disney’s legacy and impact continues on, and will live on for years and years to come. He provided entertainment, laughter, and fun memories for families all around the globe.
Walt Disney was a man of many talents. During his early career, he was inspired to create entertainment for children and families around the world. He proved to his friends, family, and critics that he could be successful. From his first job as a cartoonist, to creating his first movies, to building a billion dollar company, Disney overcame his obstacles and created a legacy that will continue on for years to come.
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