How Was Mickey Mouse Created?

These days, Disney is everywhere! (I mean, even more so after they bought the rights to intellectual property of the likes of Star Wars and Marvel). I’m not even sure Walt himself would believe how ubiquitous and influential Disney has become. And it was all started by a mouse. Which made me wonder…

“How was Mickey Mouse Created?”. In short, Mickey Mouse was created in 1928 by Walt Disney while on a train trip on his way to Hollywood from New York (Possibly one of the most productive train rides in history!). Disney then asked his main animator, Ub Iwerks, to help him refine Mickey Mouse’s design.

In this article we will explore the early history of Mickey Mouse.

Who designed Mickey Mouse? Who voiced him and how old is he? Who named Mickey Mouse and what were his first words? Stick around to find out!

So… back to the story… what happened leading up to Disney’s creation of Mickey Mouse?

Before he boarded that train, Disney’s time in New York was not a pleasant one. There had been ongoing disagreements between Disney and a guy called Charles Mintz.

Disney and his animators had created a character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Oswald was actually owned by Universal Pictures, and Mintz’ company helped Disney with the production of a series of cartoons starring Oswald.

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was a huge success, but behind the scenes, Disney and Mintz constantly clashed. At the height of the conflict, Disney severed his business relationship with Mintz after he discovered that Mintz had offered more money to Disney’s animators to come and work for him.

Disney was quoted as saying, “I was in New York at the time, I’d been producing this series of pictures for a company there. They were about a Rabbit, called Oswald. But I lost that – they took it away from me, so I had to go at it alone…“

Several of Disney’s animators left to work for Mintz. But instead of accepting defeat, Disney was determined to bounce back. Disney vowed to never again work with a cartoon character that he didn’t own the rights to. Invention is the mother of necessity, and it was on that train journey that Disney got to work!

“Mrs. Disney and I were coming back from New York on the train and I had to have something. I said “By the time we get to Hollywood, I must have something. I can’t tell them I’ve lost Oswald. So I have this mouse in the back of my head , because a mouse is sort of a sympathetic character, in spite of the fact that everybody is frightened of a mouse, including myself!”

 (I wish I was that productive on public transport)

Who designed Mickey Mouse?

So who helped design Mickey? Walt Disney was the brains behind Mickey Mouse, but he didn’t do it alone! One of the animators who refused to leave Disney was a young man called Ub Iwerks.

Prior to all that Mintz drama in New York, Disney had seen the writing on the wall and had tasked Iwerks with a mighty quest… to create Disney Studio’s new flagship character – one that Disney would own the rights to! With Iwerks’ help, Disney was able to refine his idea into the first concept of Mickey Mouse.

Amongst Iwerks’ prior designs were other animals such as cows, horses, frogs and dogs. These were presented to Disney as potential ideas but ultimately rejected. However some of these characters would later be used in future cartoons.  Ever heard of Horace Horsecollar or Clarabelle Cow? Well these were just some of the characters from Iwerks’ initial designs. Not quite Mickey, but they would still become icons in the cartoon history books!

Who Named Mickey Mouse?

Mickey Mouse was named by Lillian Disney. Initially her husband (our old friend Walt) named him Mortimer Mouse (which doesn’t have quite the same ring to it). But luckily, Mrs. Disney stepped in and suggested that he change Mortimer Mouse to Mickey Mouse.

Who is Mortimer Mouse, then?!

But this wasn’t the last we would hear of Mortimer! Disney repurposed the name to a different character. The name Mortimer Mouse was passed on to a different, lesser known character. Mortimer Mouse was portrayed as a flirtatious and unscrupulous ne’er-do-well! And yep, you guessed it, Mickey’s nemesis! Mortimer Mouse and Mickey Mouse met for the first time in 1936’s appropriately named animated short “Mickey’s Rival”.

When is Mickey Mouse’s Birthday and How old is he now?

Mickey Mouse was created by Walt Disney in 1928, making Mickey Mouse 91 years old! Mickey Mouse’s official birthday is 18 November 1928. This day was chosen because it was the day of Mickey’s legendary screen debut in Steamboat Willie! Which brings us to our next section…

When Was Mickey Mouse’s First Appearance?

The first time Mickey Mouse appeared onscreen was on 18 November 1928 in Steamboat Willie. Steamboat Willie premiered in New York City at Universal’s Colony Theater and received widespread critical acclaim. It became one of the most memorable films of 1928 and would be inducted into the National Film Registry 60 years later in the very futuristic year of 1998!

Wait… Were There Others Before Steamboat Willie?

Although Steamboat Willie was the first time the world was introduced to Mickey Mouse, it was actually already Disney’s third film he produced starring Mickey. Prior to Steamboat Willie, Disney had originally produced two other films, but Steamboat Willie was the first film that was distributed to theaters.

Have you ever seen Steamboat Willie? Well, I want you to stop and think what kind of image Mickey Mouse portrays to the world… if you think Mickey always had his squeaky clean image – think again! My oh my, how times have changed! In Steamboat Willie, Mickey is seen doing some very un-Mickey things like pulling a cat’s tail, grabbing a goose by its neck and throwing a potato at a parrot (What are you doing Mickey?!!!).

Why is Steamboat Willie Important?

Steamboat Willie is an important landmark in film because it was the first ever Disney animation that seamlessly merged moving pictures with original synchronized sound (it was also the film that catapulted Mickey into permanent international stardom).

If you compare Steamboat Willie to the likes of The Lion King, Tangled, or Moana, it doesn’t look nearly as impressive. But put yourself in the shoes of someone in the 1920’s and you would quickly realise that Steamboat Willie is something very special!

Sure, there were some animation companies that had previously synchronized animation and sound, but this was the first animation that combined story, animation, sound effects and humor in a way that captivated audiences like never before.

Steamboat Willie was so successful that it paved the way for Disney’s previous two Mickey Mouse animations to be given widespread cinema distribution (with added sound, of course).

This was only the beginning for Disney Studios. Steamboat Willie was in black and white, with not too much conversation. It was time to give Mickey some dialog!

Who Was the Voice of Mickey Mouse?

The original voice actor who brought mickey’s voice to life was Walt Disney himself! Disney provided the voice of Mickey over the next few decades. If you listen to old Mickey Mouse animations, you will be amazed by how the more recent voice actors have remained faithful to Disney’s portrayal of Mickey in the early years.

Other Mickeys

Disney first voiced Mickey in 1928 and continued to voice him over the years until 1962 (with a break between 1947 and 1955, due to Disney’s voice becoming too gravelly and hoarse from his excessive smoking habit!). During this period, other voice actors provided their talents alongside Disney. Carl W Stalling voiced him in 1929’s Wild Waves, Jimmy MacDonald (from 1947 until 1977). After MacDonald finished up with voicing Mickey, Wayne Allwine was hired to replace him.

Allwine portrayed a pretty special Mickey Mouse because not only was he the longest running voice actor for Mickey, but his wife Russi Taylor, voiced Minnie Mouse as well! SoOoO romantic, people!

After Allwine passed away in 2009, Bret Iwan was hired to continue Mickey’s legacy.

Who Are The New Guys?

In 2013 Chris Diamantopoulos also started playing the voice of Mickey Mouse in the Mickey Mouse Shorts (check it out – honestly, it’s my all time favorite design of Mickey Mouse!)

As for Iwan, he portrayed Mickey in the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Every episode ends with Mickey and the gang singing a song about hot dogs. I could never understand why they would sing such a random song, until I recently found out what Mickey’s first words were…

What Were Mickey Mouse’s First Words?

Mickey Mouse’s first words were “Hot dogs!”. These words were uttered in 1929’s animated short The Karnival Kid. Mickey has had many jobs over the years, but in Karnival Kid he’s working as a hot dog vendor at circus.

If you’ve never seen Karnival Kid, go check it out on YouTube. I never imagined sausages being able to take on the personalities of dogs, but Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks executed this effect perfectly!

Now that Disney Studios had characters talking, next it was time to add some color!

What was the first color Mickey Mouse cartoon?

The First Mickey Mouse cartoon in color was The Band Concert and was released in 1936. It is a nine-minute animation featuring Mickey Mouse and friends playing in an outdoor concert. Mickey stars at the band’s conductor, leading the rest of the band as they play William Tell.  Hilarity ensues thanks to a star performance by Donald Duck and a random bee.

Comparing this cartoon to the Karnival Kid, it was amazing to see how much Disney’s animation developed in only seven years!

Although The Band Concert was the first Disney cartoon in color, it wasn’t the first ever animation to be in color. Despite the great relationship had between Disney and Ub Iwerks, Iwerks decided to leave Disney to pursue his own projects. His first project after leaving Disney was a short film called Fiddlesticks. Fiddlesticks was an animated cartoon short starring Flip the Frog and was the first ever animation produced with both color and sound.

Why is Mickey Mouse so Popular?

Mickey Mouse became popular for many reasons. He has appeared in TV shows, movies, video games and merchandise.

Hope During The Great Depression of 1929

In addition to him starring in the first cartoon with synchronized sound, he also came into the world just before the Great Depression of 1929. During the Depression, people often turned to entertainment (music, Hollywood films and animated cartoons) to momentarily escape from life’s difficulties. Mickey Mouse’s fun, mischievous and carefree persona resonated with people at a time when the world needed a little bit of magic.

Momentum in the 1900s

For the rest of the twentieth century, Mickey Mouse would star in dozens of animated cartoons. The entrepreneurial Disney would expand Mickey into merchandising. One of the most famous being the very first Mickey Mouse wristwatch in 1932. Mickey would continue to appear on a variety of products, in community parades, and as the star of Disney’s theme parks. He would also become the namesake of the Mickey Mouse Club and its ‘Mouseketeers’.

Since 1928, Mickey Mouse became so much more than just a character. Over the years he has become a symbol and a brand.

What is Mickey Mouse Up To Today?

Nowadays we can find Mickey Mouse in high end brands. He has had fashion crossovers with Supreme, Vans and UniQlo. He has appeared on Herschel bags and Moleskine sketchbooks. We can find him in video games like Kingdom Hearts and, of course, in Apple Watch’s twenty first century homage to the original wristwatch from 1932.

Mickey Tells Us To Never Lose Hope!

Every cloud has a silver lining, and when Walt Disney was at his lowest career point and near financial ruin, he boarded that train with his wife and got to work. So next time, you feel defeated, remember to be like Disney on that train – and have hope that sometimes the greatest things can be born during the worst situations.

Thank You, Mr. Disney – Mickey Mouse Is Here To Stay

Mickey Mouse was a symbol of hope for Disney when times were tough. Starting in Walt Disney’s mind on a humble train journey, and with the help of Ub Iwerks and many others, Mickey Mouse has become one of the most recognisable symbols on the planet. As Disney once said “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”

Walt Disney can rest assured that the world will not be losing sight of Mickey Mouse any time soon!



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