Simple drawing of a mouse launched business empire
"How did Walt Disney come up with Mickey Mouse?" asked a young patron from the Wauconda Area Library.
Almost 90 years ago, a very simple design -- three circles representing a face, capped by two mouse ears -- launched a multibillion dollar empire incorporating film, television, theme parks, video games, and merchandise holdings.
Ever since Walt Disney sparked life into this lovable character, children all over the world have been mesmerized by Mickey Mouse's squeaky voice and silly antics.
First drawn in 1928, desperation to save his business may have been the needed inspiration for Disney to string together the bold outline of a mouse that would dominate the entertainment industry for decades.
Disney was born in Chicago in 1901. His family had a few setbacks and relied on him to help make ends meet. At 9 years old, he delivered newspapers, waking up at 3:30 a.m. to serve customers before school. Walt and his brothers also took on other odd jobs. From an early age, he liked to draw and contributed cartoons to his school yearbook.
During Disney's formative years, the movie industry was at its peak of popularity, offering full-length feature films like "Robin Hood" and pulling in as many as 90 million viewers each week. Movies were shown in picture palaces -- ornate buildings that were focal points in towns.
Waukegan's plush red-and-gold Genesee Theater is a great example of one of those grand movie houses. It opened in 1926, one of four opulent theaters in the town by the lake.
Moviegoers were delighted when studios began adding sound to their feature films in the mid-1920s, making "talkies" the talk of the town.
Life was tough in Disney's home. A soon as he could, Walt moved away so he could serve in World War I as a member of the American Ambulance Corps. After the war, he was 19 years old when he moved to Kansas City to find work at an animation studio.
After hours, Walt negotiated with the Newman movie chain to create branded animated shorts that would entertain ticket holders as lead-ins to the feature films.
Disney had a talent for storytelling, working with expert animator Ub Iwerks to make the shorts. Confident he could make it in Hollywood, Disney moved across the country to strike it rich, founding Disney Brothers Studio with his brother, Roy, in 1924.
Success with his featured character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, prompted Universal Studios to squeeze Disney out of business -- they hired away his employees, nabbed his rabbit character and offered to employ Disney at a reduced salary. Disney and Iwerks refused.
On a long train ride from New York to California, Disney, unwavering in his quest to create a successful animation studio, put pencil to paper and drew the first Mickey Mouse. After some minor detours, Disney finally developed a successful formula by adding a synchronized soundtrack to the animated shorts.
His first hit, released in 1927, was "Steamboat Willie" featuring Mickey Mouse with a musical accompaniment. It was an immediate success, propelling Disney and Mickey into international stardom.
Mickey has remained a Hollywood darling and adored the world over ever since. Disney's creative genius prompted industry recognition in the form of 26 Academy Awards, the most awarded to one person.