It's Walt Disney's birthday - Here's how he built the theme park industry

December 5, 2016, 11:58 AM · Today marks the 115th anniversary of Walt Disney's birth. The man who created the modern theme park industry was born December 5, 1901 on the northwest side of Chicago.

The fourth of five children, Walt founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio with his older brother Roy in 1923. (If you ever wondered why Disney's official fan club, D23, uses that number, now you know.) The brothers changed the name of their company to the Walt Disney Studio three years later, when they moved into a new building on Hyperion Street in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Again, that's why you see so much stuff named "Hyperion" in the Disney company.) If you're interested, today the site of Disney's original studio is a Gelson's supermarket.

For the studio's first years, Disney's cartoons were distributed by future archrival Universal Pictures. After former distribution partner Charles Mintz took legal control of Walt's Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and hired away four of Disney's animators to form a rival studio, Walt and his remaining animator, Ub Iwerks, created a new Oswald-like character by the name of... Mickey Mouse. Disney premiered Mickey with the release of the first sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie, on November 18, 1928.

From there, Walt went on to create the first feature-length animated movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which debuted in December 1937 at Hollywood's Carthay Circle theater. (See a pattern here? The Disney Company loves its history.) The amazing financial success of Snow White allowed Disney to build a new studio headquarters in Burbank, which remains the company's headquarters today.

Of course, the big reason why so many of us have become Disney fans is Disneyland and the theme parks that followed it. Over the years, we've spoken to several people who worked with Walt Disney on the creation of Disneyland and the Walt Disney World Resort, which opened a little over four years after Walt's death. Here are some of our top posts about the people who knew and worked with Walt Disney:

Disney Legends recall Walt Disney and the 'Yes, if....' way of management
From the 2009 IAAPA Legends Panel

July 17, 1955 and the original '...And something goes terribly wrong'
The opening day of Walt's Disneyland

11 Things You Might Not Have Known About Disney and the 1964 New York World's Fair
From the 2014 IAAPA Legends Panel

Walt Disney and the beginning of his 'World'
A history of the beginning of the Walt Disney World Resort

What if... Walt Disney had built his skiing 'theme park'?
From "Buzz" Price's book, "Walt's Revolution! By the Numbers"

'Walt and the Promise of Progress City'
What if Walt Disney had lived to build Disney World the way he had intended?

We hope that you enjoy reading our coverage.

Replies (2)

December 5, 2016 at 12:21 PM · Happy birthday to a true legend. May the company he founded follow his shining example a little more often. He set the template for reinvestment in the parks, and treating the guests with respect.
December 5, 2016 at 1:04 PM · Outstanding stuff, as always. A story and legacy that never ceases to amaze and inspire. Truly life changing for so many of your readers. I literally wouldn't be sitting where I am right now were it not for this remarkable man and all the people who worked, and are still working, to realize his dreams and keep them alive. Including you! Thanks..

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