Disney’s Walt Disney

Starting out from his parent's garage he built a global empire worth $30bn a year


Starting out from a workshop in his parent’s garage, Walt Disney created an international entertainment brand that continues to gross $30bn annually.

Throughout his career, Disney maintained a belief in innovation and embraced new technology whenever he felt it would give him an edge over the competition. In the late 1920s, while most films were still in black and white, he shrewdly obtained exclusive rights for Technicolor. It won him an Oscar in 1932 and established Disney with a reputation for bright and exciting pictures. Further innovation came through Disney’s use of synchronised music, voices and effects. This was displayed most vividly by the first feature-length musical animation Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. The picture involved the coordination and organisation of a team of skilled animators, which Disney oversaw himself. 

His managerial style was hands-on and for some intensely controlling. Swearing at work was a sacking offence and staff were forbidden from having facial hair, even though Disney himself often sported a pencil moustache. Also, although Disney drew virtually nothing after the 1920s, he took the credit for his team’s work. This lack of recognition resulted in a strike in 1941 and the resignation of many leading animators. This affected the quality of the animations produced for a number of years, yet the brand continued to grow under Disney’s tight control. He was obsessed with cultivating and maintaining his company’s reputation and brand which propagated wholesome American family values.

Disney learnt the hard way about the importance of copyrights, losing control of his first cartoon, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. However, his later inventions were always subject to his control and he took an active interest in all areas of his business. With copyright of characters such as Mickey Mouse assured, Disney diversified his business with live-action films, merchandise and the Disneyland amusement park.  In a savvy business move, Disney created his own distribution company, Buena Vista, which allowed the Disney Company to save money, move animation into the general distribution system and to gain even further control over the brand. 

Following his death, his life-long business partner and brother Roy continued to realise Disney’s visions, including the Walt Disney World and Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (Epcot), further securing partner’s legacy as a pioneer of entertainment.

Factfile: Born: December 5, 1901
Died: 15 December, 1966
Achievements: Disney and his studio won 48 Academy Awards and 7 Emmys. Disney won 26 Oscars alone, the most awarded to an individual.
Tell me something I didn’t know: During the Great Depression and the Second World War, Disney’s studio produced health, education and propaganda films for the U.S government.
In his own words:
  • “I never called my work an ‘art’: Its part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”
  • “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

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