The Story of Walter Elias Disney

Issue # 3

👋 Hi there,

In this third issue of the newsletter, I wanted to tell the story of Mr. Walter Elias Disney. It’s a fascinating journey with various ups and downs. That is something that we all can relate to if you have ever attempted entrepreneurship. I think this is an important story to tell and aligns with the Failure to Success mantra this newsletter is all about.

Walter was born on December 5th, 1901, and since early childhood took a liking to art. Initially, Walter copied newspaper cartoons that honed his artist style and slowly introduced crayons and watercolors. In high school, Walter became the artist for the school newspaper and peppered it with various illustrations. After high school, Walter applied to the army forging his application, and ultimately was rejected, settling on drawing sketches on the side of ambulances. The point is when Walter was passionate about an idea whatever that was, he had the drive and work ethic to really focus on that particular thing. Even after experiencing various roadblocks in his quest to become an animator.

While back in Kansas City Walter worked as an apprentice artist at the Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Art Studio. An important event occurred which changed the direction of Walter's life. Meeting and befreiending Ub Iwerks. During this period Walter worked on various animations, but always put his own personal spin on them, eventually leading to his own company.

Walt Disney, The Walt Disney Company Before Disney was a household name, Walt Disney established an animation company called Laugh-O-Gram. (

Things once again didn’t go well for Walter and Laugh--O-Gram as they claimed bankruptcy a short time later. Walter left Kanas City and made his way to Hollywood. However, Walter, Ub Iwerks, and others worked on a short film called “Alice’s Wonderland” which was eventually sold.

Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas." (

After the sale of Alice’s Wonderland, the creation of Disney Brothers Studio was formed with Walter’s brother Roy. Working on a new series called “Oswald the Lucky Rabit” (image above) this new direction was refreshing to Walter and he was excited about it. However, Oswald the Lucky Rabit was eventually taken away from Walter, and even most of his staff. This was due to the rights belonging to Universal Studios. What is interesting is that you can really see the resemblance between Oswald and Mortimer Mouse.

Walter and Ub Iwerks put their minds together once more and created a new mascot called Mortimer Mouse. Eventually, Mortimer was renamed Mickey Mouse! Walter and his wife worked on this new character together and Walter added a voice to Mickey which catapulted this character and Walter’s career both now and in the future. Walter continued work on various shorts and animations while expanding his team of artists and creators.

Eventually, Ub Iwerks was approached and taken away from Walter by Pat Powers. This lead to Walter experiencing a nervous breakdown leading him to take a much-needed break away from this company. He described not being able to talk on the telephone “I would just start to cry”. The time away was obviously needed.

Upon Walter’s return, Disney ended up signing a deal with Columbia Pictures who distributed Mickey Mouse cartoons and the “Three Little Pigs” - my personal favorite childhood story. By now, Walter was already thinking of the next big thing which he believed to be full-length films. This thought and idea lead to the creation of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” which was an amazing feat and was highly successful. But, the next two releases didn’t perform as well, Pinocchio and Fantasia. While in the midst of World War II, the loss of live audiences couldn’t be overcome. This lead to Walter having to cut staff and wages resulting in an animator strike in 1941. It wasn’t just the wages that staff was picketing about, but Walter was also known as being tough on employees, and rarely gave praise for good work.

Walter would actually cough loudly before walking into rooms where the staff was working. This was his signal to convey to his staff be ready and on your toes, I’m coming. Disney created war propaganda which helped its profits and eventually released “Bambi” in 1942 which also didn’t perform that well. During the 1940’s Disney transitioned to other films like documentaries, animations, and live actions.

Walt's imagination eventually went beyond movies and he started to think of new ideas. One being an amusement park. This amusement park named “Disneyland” opened its gates in 1955. Like everything else this too had its growing pains. It wasn’t expansive enough. Walt looked to expand this park and found a plot of land in Orlando which seemed just right. Disneyland would occupy this space and grow it by implementing new technologies as they emerged always being fresh and new.

Sadly, Walter wouldn’t live long enough to see its opening. Smoking and drinking eventually lead to Walter’s death on November 30th, 1966, at age 65 from Lung Cancer.

In this story of Walter and Disney, I wanted to showcase although Walter was not perfect his drive determination, and fuel to make dreams come true even after various failures along the way is a true inspiration.

From Milton Hershey to Walt Disney, failure has long served entrepreneurs as a source of motivation and inspiration. (

I hope this edition of Money Laundering sparks that creativity and fuel for all of us to pursue whatever it is we seek. Sure things along the way are going to be tough, nothings easy in life, but it’s how we respond and strive forward that’s most important.

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