With over 52 million annual visitors, Disney World is the most visited magical place on earth. Whether you are a child or just childlike this ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ transforms you into a magical world. Walter Disney, the creator of Disney theme parks, is also the first person to make an animated film and the co-creator of world-famous cartoon character Mickey Mouse. He is the animator, the filmmaker, and the theme park developer.
In the 19th Century, amusement parks in the United States began as ‘pleasure gardens’ or family picnic spots to enjoy inexpensive entertainment and food. In 1940s Santa Land (now Holiday World) became America’s first theme park.
Walt Disney inspired by this wanted to set up a similar place that would bring to life the innovative cartoon characters of Disney films. From 1951, he visited many parks and fairs from Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen to Coney Island in New York researching about them. One day when he took his daughters out to a theme park, he noticed parents getting bored, an unfriendly atmosphere and unhygienic surroundings. He refined his vision, ‘to build a family park where parents and children could have fun together’. What began as sketches with illustrator Herb Ryman, and help from his brother Roy, who approached ABC Corporation, finally, he succeeded in getting funding from ABC network in exchange for a 35% stake in the park and a weekly one-hour television show, and live coverage of the opening day for the network. Along with the funding, he put a mortgage on his stock holdings, life insurance, house, and furniture to purchase at USD 11 million, an orange grove near Anaheim, California to build a 185 acre amusement park. On July 17, 1955, Disney’s first theme park ‘ Disneyland Park ’opened its doors to the public, drawing 33,000 on the first day and over 1 million visitors in its first 10 weeks.
In the 1960s Walt Disney bought 27,000 acres of land for USD 5 million near Orlando in Florida to build Disney World. On October 1, 1971, Walt Disney World opened with only the Magic Kingdom and two hotel resorts. In 1981, Walt Disney Productions paid USD 46.2 million to buy back the company. Today Disney World has 36 hotels with over 30,000 hotel rooms, 409 wilderness cabins, 799 campsites, and 3,293 DVC units. Sadly in 1966 at the age of 65, Walt Disney passed away with cancer. Having created the idea of the world’s largest amusement park, he did not live to see its opening.
Today Disney is one of the largest entertainment company with a net worth of USD 164 billion.
Disney continues to expand in parks and resorts, media entertainment, consumer products, studio entertainment and interactive entertainment.
Walt Disney, the dreamer.
From animated cartoons to films he had the most vivid imagination. He had a childhood dream of creating an amusement park where he could bring to life all the characters in his head.
Walter grew up in Chicago Illinois, with his parents Elias and Flora, along with four brothers and a sister. Walt’s love for sketching and drawing grew deeper as he tried to escape and seek solace from his father’s authoritarian ways. He went away to France and worked as a driver for Red Cross Ambulance Corps during World War 1. In 1919, when he returned, he took up a job as an artist at the Kansas City Star newspaper but was soon thrown out for ‘lack of creativity’. From there he went on to work for Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Studio where he befriended Ubbe Iwerks an animator. By 1920, Walt and Ubbe lost their jobs, started a studio that failed, went back to work as animators for Film Ad Co, and worked on a side project Laugh-O-Grams but that too failed and both friends split ways in 1923.
The Disney Brothers
When every effort failed, Walt turned to his elder brother Roy, the businessman to start Disney Brothers Studio (now known as Walt Disney Studio). The company was working for Universal Pictures where it created the cartoon character Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, his first-ever commercially successful creation, was stolen from him. Universal Pictures also managed to lure the entire team to leave Disney Brothers and work for them, except Ubbe Iwerks who had once again joined hands with Walt.
Rome was not built in a day
The bitter experience at Universal Pictures prompted Walt to work for himself. No easy task. He, Ubbe and Roy had to continue. Their first two films failed but the third animation film ‘Steamboat Willie’ released in 1928 became a huge hit.
Sometime around then Mickey Mouse was born with Ubbe sketching animal pictures. Mickey Mouse later become the 1st cartoon character to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Nov 13, 1978.
In the decades that followed, during The Great Depression years, 1929 to 1946, Disney created its first color cartoon and also its first animated feature-length film ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’.
On April 2, 1940, Walt Disney Productions came up with an IPO issuing 155,000 shares of 6% convertible preferred stock. This issue raised USD 3.5 million for the company.
Their films like Bambi, Fantasia and Cinderella were successful but also expensive for the studio. Walt and Roy set up a distribution company Buena Vista to produce documentaries with higher profit margins than the animate films. All along Walt’s dreams to bring Mickey Mouse, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi out of the movies and into people’s lives was only getting stronger.
Yes, Rome was not built in a day… It took 1920 to 1955, for Walt’s dream finally came to life.
And the story goes on…Walt Disney said, ‘Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world’