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Happy Birthday, Walt Disney!

So, you think you know Walt Disney. But did you know that "Disney" wasn't his family's ancestral surname? That he drove an ambulance? That his first studio went bankrupt in just one year? Or that he was a train nut and had a miniature railroad put in his backyard? To celebrate the 107th anniversary of his birthday, here are Neatorama's 10 Fun Facts About Walt Disney:

Origin of the "Disney" Name: d'Isigny
Walt's ancestors were named d'Isigny, and came from Isigny-sur-Mer in Normandy, France. They moved to a village in Lincolnshire, England now named Norton Disney.

Disney Tried to Join the Army, but was Rejected
In 1917, Walt tried to join the Army to fight in World War I and was rejected ... because he was too young! He was 16 at the time, so he joined The Red Cross instead. His first job there? Driving an ambulance.

Walt Disney as an ambulance driver in France - photo via Croce Rossa Italiana

Laugh-O-Gram: Disney's First Venture Went Bank-O-Rupt
In 1922, Disney founded an animation company called Laugh-O-Gram. The company immediately ran into financial troubles (Disney had to live in the office and take baths once a week at a neighboring train station). In just about one year, the studio declared bankruptcy. Disney sold his movie camera for a one-way ticket to Hollywood, California.

The studio produced only a few animations, including one called Tommy Tucker's Tooth, which was commissioned by a local dentist about the merits of brushing your teeth. (More on Laugh-O-Grams at The Animation Empire)

Before Mickey Mouse, There was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
Walt and Ub Iwerks created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (who looked suspiciously similar to Mickey) for Charles Mintz of Universal Studios. In 1928, with the popular cartoon series going strong, Disney asked Mintz for an increase in budget. Instead, Mintz took over his current employees and demanded that Walt take a budget cut!

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit - via Los comienzos de Walt

Mintz thought that he had Disney cornered - instead, Walt went on to start anew with Iwerks and a loyal apprentice named Les Clark. They tried sketches of various animals, including dog, cat, cow, frog and horse before settling on a mouse (based on Disney's pet mouse Mortimer).

They were going to call the character Mortimer Mouse, but Walt's wife Lilian convinced him to change the name to Mickey Mouse (she thought "Mortimer" sounded pompous) (Source).

Disney's Folly: Snow White
In 1934, Disney embarked on his most ambitious project yet: a full-length animated feature called Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Both his brother Roy and wife Lilian tried to talk him out of it, saying that it would be too difficult and too expensive (Lilian said: "No one's ever going to pay a dime to see a dwarf picture.") The Hollywood movie industry mocked it as "Disney's Folly."

Two years later, while still in mid-production, Walt ran out of money. The initial production cost of $250,000 (already 10 times the average budget of his other animations) ballooned to over $1.5 million. (today's value: $21 million) He had to mortgage his house and get a loan to finish the movie.

Walt in the trailer of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - via Wikipedia

In 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarf was released and became an instant success. The movie won an honorary Oscar (see this post on Neatorama: Oscars Fun Facts) and grossed over $66 million domestically. Over its lifetime, the movie grossed over $184 million. Not bad for a "folly."

Disney Goes to War
In 1942, a naval officer wrote a letter to Walt asking for a design for an emblem of the Navy's new fleet of torpedo boats nicknamed "mosquito boats." Disney obliged with a drawing of a mosquito riding a torpedo (the insignia was such a hit that every torpedo boat in the fleet soon had it).

Words spread, and Disney was bombarded with requests for insignias for tanks, minesweepers, bombers, and figher planes. has a neat article about Disney's artistic contribution to the Great War: Link (text from LIFE Magazine)


Walt Disney was a Train Lover
Disney loved trains. He even built a miniature railroad in his backyard called the Carolwood Pacific Railroad. It was named after the street on which his home was located.

Walt's railroad had 2,615 feet of track, including trestles, loops, overpasses, and even a tunnel (after his wife vetoed the train going through her flower beds).

Disney's backyard railroad became an inspiration for the Disneyland theme park.

Walt's Disneyland Tribute to His Father

Photo: David Ball [Wikipedia]

Elias Disney, Walt's father, was a carpenter who earned about $1 a day. In 1895, Elias began a modest home construction business that ultimately failed. He continued to work odd jobs afterwards, including farming, running a newspaper delivery business, and working in a jelly factory.

Elias didn't live long enough to see Disneyland, but the lamp in his window is always lit in his honor. (Source: Disneyland Detective: An Independent Guide to Discovering Disney's Legend, Lore, and Magic by K. Trahan, D. Hawkins, and B. McKim)

Cigarettes Killed Disney
Walt Disney was a chain smoker. In 1966, he was scheduled to undergo a neck surgery for an old polo injury, but a pre-surgery X-ray showed a large tumor in his left lung. Doctors ultimately removed the lung, but Disney died later that year.

[YouTube Clip]

In 1951, Disney produced a short clip titled "No Smoking" of Goofy trying to quit smoking. The company banned the cartoon from TV broadcast.

Disney's Mysterious Tie Clip
The Walt Disney bronze statue in Disneyland has a weird tie clip that looks like a symbol from an alien language.

Photo: Zesmerelda [Flickr]

It turns out the symbol is made of the letters S, T, and R, which stands for "Smoke Tree Ranch," Disney's ranch in Palm Springs, California. Nearby Walt's ranch lives a good friend of his, who became the inspiration of the character "Jacques" the Mouse in Cinderella! (Source: Hidden Mickeys, with a lot more fun facts of Disney)

Previously on Neatorama: 10 Cool Secrets About Disneyland

That statue at Disneyland also has a "ha ha, looks like Walt's wiener" illusion created from Mickey's nose if you stand in the right place. I don't know why I know this.
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Happy Birthday Walt indeed. I love the way Walt and his organization was always about wholesome, clean fun for the whole family. That is still felt in their theme parks today and in the animated films they collaborate on.
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I remember that cartoon....

I knew most of this stuff already. Combination of being a big Disney fan and taking an Animation class (we watched a film or two on Disney)

Happy Birthday Walt :)
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Today is my birthday as well! How interesting that I share a birthday with Walt Disney. I never knew that until I read this article.

Thank you for sharing, what a cool thing to find out. Happy birthday Walt.
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I definitely remember seeing that cartoon when I was little...repeatedly, and I was little in the late 80s/early 90s. I just can't remember where I saw it, whether it was on a video or on TV. At some point I guess they unbanned it? Or somebody snuck it in somewhere.
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Disney was born in Andalusia (Spain), in the city of Mojacar. His name was José Guirao Zamora.
You can read more about this here:
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Sorry but Walt was no racist or anti semite, just one of those 'urban legends' that seem to accuse every well known personality/celebrity of anti semitism and racism:
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I read his biography last year. What fascinated me most was what an uphill struggle everything was for him in the early days, bankruptcy, betrayals, and frustrations that would have made the average guy think Enough of this Hollywood crap! I'm getting sensible job. I'm glad he didn't give up.
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"In 1942, a naval officer wrote a letter to Walt asking for a design for an emblem....."

My father did the same thing when he was in Ordinance in the U.S. Army during WWII. I'm sure untold other servicemen did also. I have what Disney sent to him and if I can find it I'll scan and upload. Hmmmm, donno if I can do that, if not I'll send it to Alex.

(This is going to drive me nuts trying to think of where it might be! Arrrrrrggggghhhhhh)

Nice post Alex.
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Okay, so it was interesting to learn that he was a Red Cross ambulance driver and loved trains enough to erect a miniature railroad in his backyard, but a cartoon where Goofy is driven to madness by nicotine and robs strangers then asks a man on the street for weed? That's quite surprising.
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We have an photo of him here in the Special collections of UMKC's miller nichols library from when he lived in Kansas city.
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Hey disney ur a pretty cool guy u know. but im soooo suprised to find out that u died from smoking:( but i waz super interested to find that clip that waz on ur tie. when i first read the article i couldnt believe that it related to aaliens but then i read on and found out wat it really stood for. u and all ur creations really inspired me and shelby and were even doing our social studies project on you which is y we looked at this article. and im in LOVE with william harris anderson:)))))))) *love marissa and shelby*
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When I was a kid back in the '50 I was on the merry-go-round. I dropped my purse and everything fell out. The man that was running the ride came over and picked up everything that had dumped (ok I was only 5 or 6)out. He asked if I was o.k. and was I having fun. I told him that I was. When I got off the ride, my MOTHER started to yell at me for talking to a stranger, but TO HER SURPRISE ( of which made her stop) it was Mr. Disney. He came over and told her that he just wanted to make sure that I was o.k. and having fun. What a great memory to have of Disneyland. I still feel it is one of the best parks around.
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I worked at Disneyland for 3 months, and the place is pretty liberal, workers and place..a bit plastic..ironic, Walt Disney was a devout Catholic.
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I have heard that Walt Disney came from the town of Goderich, Ontario Canada. Is this true? If so how was he born in the US??? Which is true, I would love to know. Thanks
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Scoopy was the Disney only character ever sold. It was made for Eleanor McClatchy for the newspaper. You can find it on two of the three bee papers - Sacramento Bee and Modesto Bee. Not sure why it is not on the Fresno Bee page.

A bit of history about it is here:
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Few people know that Walt Disney was also a ham radio operator. He used to talk to my grandfather and he would also send Mickey Mouse trinkets to my dad. My grandfather once showed us in his log book where had talked with him on several occasions. I can't remember what Walt's call letters were and unfortunately, the log book has long disappeared.
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Walt Disney was born on December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois. The home he was born in is still standing. His father, Elias was born in Bluevale, Ontario, Canada. He also changed in birth certificate so it read that he was born in 1900 so he could enlist in the Red Cross as you had to be 17. He had to be 18 to join the armed services.
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"Disney was born in Andalusia (Spain), in the city of Mojacar. His name was José Guirao Zamora.
You can read more about this here:"

This is horribly wrong. This is not true at all, he was born in the U.S.A, and Walter Elias Disney is his true name. You just got owned.
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Well done Walt Disney...........The modern generation who have been to Disney Land or read about it, will alway salute you for your wonderful contribution.
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Disney was indeed an anti-semite and evidence of this can be found in cartoon content and his hiring practices. He is reported to have attended pro-Nazi meetings held in the US prior to WWII. He also testified before the House of Representatives during the "Red Scare" against colleagues (competitors, perhaps?) who were blacklisted. He was a McCarthy supporter and transcripts of his voluntary report can be found online. Disney was also anti-union, which he equated with Communism.

That said, IMHO, the parks and products represent (for the most part) the best aspects of his personality and those who were instrumental in helping him along the way.
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Well, despite everyone's true facts of Walter Elias Disney...he was in general...a very kind man. So what if he had done bad things? Many of us have too. He just happened to become famous so we all dug into his life. This wonderful man has brought entertainment worldwide. I think him for that, it is tragic he died because of smoking. I used Walt Disney as my project for a famous entrepreneur in my Business Ownership class. I'm glad I got to learn more about him. He is truly interesting and has done a wonderful job living his life. Thank you Walt Disney!
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I used to work at Disneyland in my younger days, when my boobs were still firm and my snatch was still tight. I used to work the Red Light district. It's back street behind New Orleans Square, the same street that Club 33 is on. Many men who came out of Club 33 and were loaded in more ways than one, would do me up in Robinson's tree house, one of the subs, the monorail, and sometimes Walt's apartment above the firehouse. One time Minnie and I had a little lesbo thing going on at Walt's apartment over the castle. Those were the days.
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One time I got a blowjob while riding the roller coaster in Space Mountain. I came just as the ride was climaxing. Ohhhhhhhhhhhh, that was awesome, dudes.
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My contribution to the body of information aabout Walt Disney is heresay, however, someone said that Walt's fourth grade desk is on exhibit at the Walt Disney Elementary School in Marceline,Missouri;and there was a report which told of young Walt as a baggage handler on the Sante Fe Railroad which operated service between Marceline and Kansas City.
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Please remove all of the obscene comments in this blog (specifically, The Lady in Red, Mookie,Mortimer Mouse, and someone calling himself Walt).
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Go to and Search for "Walt Disney Secret Lives."

it is a past interview with his retired employees.

the truth must be told.
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Walter Elias Disney was in fact a great mind in drawing and imagination. Many were inspired by him. Of course his brother Roy was his financial guardian. Unfortunately the Disney family is out of the business concerning the Theme Parks today.
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well now that the horror movie i was watching finished i could actually enjoy this . except for the smoking video . i hate smoking . it's one of the worst habits i've seen anyone doing .
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In the goofy video, when someone steps on his hand, it leaves the imprint PUSSY FOOT or PUSSY BOOT...i can't quite tell...Disney and his sex insinuations...
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Walt and his artist crew created many wonderful things. One of the unfortunate after-effects of many of his major animated features is that all of the women characters (Snow White, Cinderela, et.all.) lived happily ever after. This idea has been ingrained in the minds of many, if not most, little girls the world over, but especially in the USA, since 1934.
It just doesn't happen this way, kiddo.
Perhaps the stories should have ended as "They lived happily ever after...for a while."
Maybe we take this stuff too seriously. Just sit back and enjoy! There's no subliminal message in a Disney movie.
(I think!)
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My understanding has it that Disney built his backyard train system after seeing a similar one at the home his good friend, Disney animator, Ward Kimball. Kimball was a major railroad buff and he used to come to us at Em Gee Films with others from the San Bernardino Railroad society to get railroad oriented feature films of the silent and earily sound era for their annual event. I met Ward Kimball once in the late 1980s. As I recall from a Disney TV documentary, Walt Disney found the railroad in his backyard to be a great way to relax and enjoy the weekend.
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i just knew that Walt's Bday was on Dec 5. am so happy to know that!
the snow white and 7 dwarfs r one of my fav cartoon movie of disney production and never get bored even i've seen for almost 20 yr of my life
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Walt Disney was NOT an anti-semite. Anyone who clings to that urban myth obviously has some personal hate agenda of their own. Instead of believing hearsay and rumors somebody told you, try reading a book or two about the man.

The latest massive biography of Disney (written by Neil Gabler, a Jewish researcher and author) covers all of Walt's flaws in great detail. But the author points out very clearly that after doing five years of research and interviews, he found absolutely no evidence that Walt Disney disliked Jews (or any minorities, for that matter).

If you still insist on clinging to your bitter beliefs, go infect some Nazi web site and leave this one alone.
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Walt Disney and his organization have always held themselves to a higher standard than a lot of other groups. They gave us theme parks, and entertainment that we can feel right about taking our children to. It is very rare because most of the world, and the internet is full of ugliness, and cruelty. Even to mention taking drugs, committing violence or having sex in Disney Land just makes me feel sick, and makes the person telling the story seem sad and pathetic. So thank you Walt Disney for showing us, and our kids a world that is still beautiful, and magical.
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he was dishonorably discharged from the united states navy. his discharge was on display in the early 1970's.

american hero?? i think not.
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I visited the park a few years ago. I was told by a guy in a suit that I had “excessive” facial hair and I was in violation of Disney standards. He escorted me through a hidden door off of Main Street to a very large and opulent rest room. He gave me a Disney razor and some Disney shaving cream and I had to shave. He then let me rejoin my family in the park.
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For those of you too young to remember when you took your shoes to "the shoe man" and had new heels put on when they wore down, the Goofy cartoon has a topical reference that I will explain.
So gather around children and "Uncle Ed" will explain:
Back in the day, a very popular and universally recognized brand of resoling supplies was the "Cats Paw" line of replacement rubber heels and soles. So for the Disney animators to include the very clear heel mark with "Pussy Foot" on it was actually a 3 way gag. 1. The word play on the Cats Paw name 2. The implication that it was a resoled shoe and thus well worn, and 3. The visual/word play on "pussy foot" as in to step lightly when the cigar has just been smashed flat.
Nothing pornographic here. So those of you looking for prurient intent need to go review the Iwerks material from the mid to late 30s more closely and come back when you've actually done your homework.
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Deb, Walt Disney was not an atheist, although atheists like to lie and say that he was. Why is that? One clown posts a rumor on the internet, other clowns read it and assume it is true. Well clowns, read this ...
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