Learning from InvENtors: Walt Disney

Learning from InvENtors: Walt Disney

This is the first post in a series where we will review the innovation processes of some of the world?s greatest inventors… And, as a self-proclaimed ?Dis-nerd?, I’m kicking it off?with Walt Disney.


Aside from my personal love of all things Disney that started the first time I visited the Magic Kingdom as a small child, I have always been fascinated by the man behind the mouse.

It is truly amazing how one man could be SO far ahead of his time. Walt Disney started as an animator, co-founded Walt Disney Productions and founded Disneyland and Disney World – with all these changes, one thing remained consistent: he never stopped reinventing himself. Every move he made, no matter how calculated, was a step into uncharted waters.

He was, to an extent, fearless.

An artist at his core, Walt Disney was born in Chicago on December 5, 1901. In 1906, his family moved to a farm in Missouri, where he first learned how to draw. Unfortunately, the farm failed, and in 1911, his family moved to Kansas City, where he rose at 3:30 am to deliver newspapers on his father?s paper route. During this time, Disney fell in love with vaudeville and movies.

In 1917, the family returned to Chicago, where Walt pursued drawing, creating cartoons for his high school yearbook and taking classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. After World War I, Walt got a job at a commercial art studio in Kansas City. He discovered animation while working at an ad company and became obsessed with the medium. Walt began making Laugh-O-gram ad reels and animation shorts on his own time with fellow artist, Ub Iwerks. Unfortunately, Laugh-O-gram Films went bankrupt, but Walt did not give up. At age 21, he moved to California with $40 in his pocket.

Walt?s original plan was to go to California to find work as a director, but when he received a contract for his own work, he launched Disney Bros. Studio with his brother, Roy. By the end of 1924, he was no longer working as an animator. His main focus was on story development and directing. Disney Bros. Studio experienced several business setbacks in its early years, but then Walt created Mickey Mouse, and the mouse saved the day.

Walt?s films starring Mickey Mouse established the Disney Bros. as the leading animation studio in the country. The success of Mickey Mouse let Disney expand the newly renamed Walt Disney Studios and improve the quality of studio animation. During this time, Disney became a patented inventor (US #2,201,689), creating the multiplane camera that brought better-looking, richer animation. In 1937, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first full-length animated film to use the camera.

During the four years that Snow White was in development, Disney and Roy secured six-figure loans ? each loan enough to finance an entire movie ? time after time, and skeptics called the film “Disney’s Folly,? but he never gave up. Disney brought in an art instructor to work with his team and insisted that the animators study live models and animals. The studio created a Character Model Department, which constructed small sculptures of characters which let animators study characters in the round. At the end of the day, the film cost $1.5 million to make, and took in $184.9 million at the box office worldwide. Disney received an Academy Award for the film (he received one regular sized award and seven smaller sized awards).

Over the next decade, Walt and Roy produced several more feature films, including Bambi, Pinocchio and Fantasia. The 30s and 40s brought more difficulty, including the deaths of Disney?s parents, a studio strike and a period when the U.S. military used part of the studio as a base. During this time, the company released Dumbo and produced training films for the military, public service shorts and morale boosting films. Walt embarked on a goodwill tour of South America to strengthen ties between the U.S. and Latin American countries. He later produced two Latin American-themed animated movies on the trip – a silver lining to hard times.

Following the war, Walt and Roy continued to release animated films including Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp, the studio?s first widescreen animated feature. Just as before, they didn?t stop there. During this time, Walt produced his first live-action features, including Treasure Island and 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.

Over the next 15 years, Walt created pioneering weekly television shows, in addition to continuing production on animated and live-action films, including the Academy Award-winning Mary Poppins. Walt was never bored. He worked to develop new technologies for installations for the 1964-1965 World?s Fair (perhaps you?ve ridden ?It?s a Small World??). In the 1960s, he announced his ideas for EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.

Photo: http://thisdayindisneyhistory.homestead.com/worldsfair.html

Photo: http://thisdayindisneyhistory.homestead.com/worldsfair.html

Walt created the templates for family television entertainment and outdoor family recreation while also infusing the promise of space exploration and urban planning with a sense of wonder and awe.

No matter what the accomplishment, Disney was never satiated. He always was looking beyond to what was next.

He never stopped innovating.

Today, the Walt Disney Company has made even greater strides in motion picture producing, television programming, feature animations and family entertainment destinations. The Walt Disney Company now includes theme parks, motion picture and television studios, a television network, cable and radio stations, newspaper and book publishing companies, record companies, travel divisions, a cruise line, retail stores, special effects and engineering firms, new media companies, and much more.

All this from a man who was fired from the Kansas City Star due to his alleged lack of inventiveness and imagination.


We’ve touched on a variety of different topics on the Edison Nation Blog, from the basics of inventing to different aspects of product development. What lies at the heart of it all, however, is your inspiration to come up with the ideas you share with us.

Without ideas, there would be no products and no disruptive innovation to the marketplace.

While the inventing process is not one for the faint of heart, allow yourself to take a page from Walt?s book and keep inventing, reinventing and imagining… you?re next ?BING? moment could be right around the corner.

Happy Inventing!

Source: www.waltdisney.org

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4 Comments Learning from InvENtors: Walt Disney

  1. Tom Low

    It would be great, most interesting and inspiring to instead of talking about WHAT Disney made, to instead talk about HOW he made those great movies, theamparks, and way he made sure they resonated with the American public. Talk about the way he worked, the size and skill set of his core team for specific projects (hint, it wasn’t a large team), and the creative feedback loops he insisted on during each step of the creative process?

  2. Michelle

    Hi Tom, Thank you for your feedback and we’ll definitely take it into consideration for a potential follow-up post.

Comments are closed.