The Man Behind The Mouse: Walt Disney Is Born

“The era we are living in today is a dream of coming true,” Walt Disney once said. Indeed, Disney’s life was of the stuff dreams are made.

The man who had one of the most fertile imaginations in history, who managed to turn his musings into a billion dollar company and whose legacy would continue to live on for decades after his death, was born Walter Elias Disney on December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois. The family quickly moved from the increasingly dangerous city of Chicago to Marceline, Missouri, where they purchased a farm. Because he was too young to work, Disney spent most of his time on the farm playing with his four siblings and the animals. He would later reflect on this period as the best years of his life.

It was on the farm where Disney first discovered his passion for drawing when a retired doctor who lived next door to the family paid Disney to draw pictures of his horse. But, his idyllic farm days would not last long. In 1909, his father developed typhoid fever and, unable to work, was forced to sell the farm. The family moved to Kansas City, much to the dismay of Disney, where his father made him wake up at 3am to work on a local newspaper route delivering the Kansas City Star.

In school, Disney was an average student, with a penchant for doodling rather than listening to his teachers. When he was 15, he got a summer job working for the Santa Fe Railroad, selling items to passengers as trains rolled in. But, Disney found himself more fascinated with the trains than sales and did not last long on the job. During high school, he also occupied his time drawing patriotic cartoons for the school newspaper. And, when he could find enough time, he would attend night classes at the Chicago Art Institute.

At 16, Disney finally dropped out of school to join the Army, only to be rejected for being too young. He then decided to forge his birth certificate and join the American Red Cross Ambulance Corps, but by the time he finished his training, the war had ended. Disney decided to stay in France and worked as an ambulance driver, all the while continuing to spend his spare time drawing, completely covering his ambulance with his own cartoon creations. After two years, Disney grew lonely in Europe and returned to America, where he decided to finally pursue his passion seriously.

Upon returning, Disney immediately went to see his family; he wanted to share with them his newfound dreams of becoming an artist. But, his father did not support his career choice and so Disney returned to Kansas City on his own. With the help of his older brother, Roy, Disney found work making print ads at the Pesemen-Rubin Art Studio and continued experimenting with animation. He soon found himself fascinated with the possibilities of animation and knew he had finally found his niche.

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