Walt Disney

Walt Disney may be one of America's most beloved visionaries and entrepreneurs, but there is much about Walt Disney that his fans don't know. For instance, did you know that his actual autograph bears no resemblance to the famous Disney logo? Or that Walt he got his idea for Mickey Mouse while watching mice play in his garage one night? This was despite the fact that he himself had a fear of mice.

To read about this entrepreneur is to read about the story of a family man with an out-of-this-world imagination. Born with three older brothers - Herbert, Raymond and Roy - and one younger sister - Ruth - Walt attended McKinley High School where he had creative freedom as art editor of the school newspaper. He also spent his Saturdays attending basic drawing classes at the Kansas City Art Institute.

He once said, "When people laugh at Mickey Mouse, it's because he's so human; and that is the secret of his popularity." Could the same thing be said about himself? Was it his artistic talent alone that allowed this young dreamer to achieve the heights of success that he did? Or was there something else about him that pushed him to the top?

When colleagues talk about Walt Disney, they speak of a man with passion and determination. He was also resourceful and detail-oriented; in planning the layout of his theme park, Walt Disney did whatever he needed to ensure a flawless experience for his guests. Even the trashcans at Walt Disney World were placed 25 steps away from hot dog vendors - exactly the amount of time he had once taken to finish his hot dog.

Personal facts about the businessman can be hard to come by. In fact, Disney is actually a changed version of the cartoonist's family name. Hailing from Isigny-Sur-Mer, France, the family's original name was D'Isigny. However, over the years, it became anglicised into the name that is today recognized the world over.

America has come to love what they know about the Mickey creator; everyone even seems to have their own personal favourite Disney movie or character. His efforts were rewarded with 32 Oscars - more than anyone else in the award's history. But, what did he himself love? What were some of his favourite things?

It might be a little known fact about Walt Disney that his personal favourite character was Goofy, while he was most excited about his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). In addition, his favourite meal was chilli and beans, which he ate regularly with tomato juice and soda crackers.

John Ralston Saul once said of the man, "Marx was fortunate to have been born eighty years before Walt Disney. Disney also promised a child's paradise and unlike Marx, delivered on his promise. Whether you love his theme parks or you find yourself getting dizzy from the array of activities they offer and the long line-ups, one thing for sure can be said: today, the child paradise that he created stands as a legacy to his outstanding vision and entrepreneurial drive.
The Man Behind The Mouse: Walt Disney Is Born

"The era we are living in today is a dream of coming true," Walt Disney once said. Indeed, Disney's life was of the stuff dreams are made.

The man who had one of the most fertile imaginations in history, who managed to turn his musings into a billion dollar company and whose legacy would continueto live on for decades after his death, was born Walter Elias Disney on December 5, 1901 in Chicago, Illinois. The family quickly moved from the increasingly dangerous city of Chicago to Marceline, Missouri, where they purchased a farm. Because he was too young to work, Disney spent most of his time on the farm playing with his four siblings and the animals. He would later reflect on this period as the best years of his life.

It was on the farm where Disney first discovered his passion for drawing when a retired doctor who lived next door to the family paid Disney to draw pictures of his Zorse. But, his idyllic farm days would not last long. In 1909, his father developed typhoid fever and, unable to work, was forced to sell the farm. The family moved to Kansas City, much to the dismay of Disney, where his father made him wake up at 3am to work on a local newspaper route delivering the Kansas City Star.

In school, Disney was an average student, with a penchant for doodling rather than listening to his teachers. When he was 15, he got a summer job working for the Santa Fe Railroad, selling items to passengers as trains rolled in. But, Disney found himself more fascinated with the trains than sales and did not last long on the job. During high school, he also occupied his time drawing patriotic cartoons for the school newspaper. And, when he could find enough time, he would attend night classes at the Chicago Art Institute.

At 16, Disney finally dropped out of school to join the Army, only to be rejected for being too young. He then decided to forge his birth certificate and join the American Red Cross Ambulance Corps, but by the time he finished his training, the war had ended. Disney decided to stay in France and worked as an ambulance driver, all the while continuing to spend his spare time drawing, completely covering his ambulance with his own cartoon creations. After two years, Disney grew lonely in Europe and returned to America, where he decided to finally pursue his passion seriously.

Upon returning, Disney immediately went to see his family; he wanted to share with them his newfound dreams of becoming an artist. But, his father did not support his career choice and so Disney returned to Kansas City on his own. With the help of his older brother, Roy, Disney found work making print ads at the Pesemen-Rubin Art Studio and continued experimenting with animation. He soon found himself fascinated with the possibilities of animation and knew he had finally found his niche.
Disney's Rise To The Top: Living A Fairy Tale

While working at Pesemen-Rubin Art Studio, Disney met a fellow cartoonist named Ubbe Iwwerks and the two became instant friends. They created their first company, Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists, but it collapsed because they found few clients. The two then went to work for Kansas City Film Ad, where they continued to experiment with animation and different techniques. After two years, Disney quit his job to launch his second business.

Laugh-O-Gram Films, Inc. was devoted to creating short cartoons based on children's fairy tales. Disney's films found success in Kansas, but little elsewhere and proved too expensive a venture to sustain. Alice's Wonderland would be the last short created before the company went bankrupt in 1923. Still determined, Disney sold his camera and bought a one-way train ticket to Los Angeles, California. He applied all over the city for work as a film director, but was turned down everywhere he went. He then decided to return to animation.

He sent a copy of Alice's Wonderland to a New York distributor, who immediately wanted a distribution deal with Disney. After convincing his brother Roy to help him with his finances and Iwwerks to move to California, the Disney Brothers' Studio was officially founded. He also hired a painter by the name of Lillian Bounds, who would later become his wife.

After four years of modest success, The Alice Comedies series ended. Universal Pictures then commissioned Disney for a new animated series called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. It was an instant success and it allowed the Disney studio to expand. But, after a dispute with the distributor, Disney lost the rights to Oswald as well as most of his staff.

In 1928, Disney would rebound with the most famous creation of his career: Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse appeared for the first time in Steamboat Willie, the world's first synchronized sound cartoon. Disney continued to add to his portfolio with Silly Symphonies, a series of musical shorts. Unhappy with his share of the profits, Disney signed a new distribution deal with Columbia Pictures. Iwwerks left Disney to create his own studio and Disney was forced to replace him with numerous other cartoonists. Disney's success with Mickey Mouse was rewarded with an Academy Award in 1932.

The Disney roster of cartoon characters continued to grow with the addition of Donald Duck, Goofy and others in a spin off series, which proved equally successful. But, Disney wanted to keep expanding. In 1934, against the advice of his family and colleagues, he decided to create a full-length animated film based on Snow White. After three years and large loans from the Bank of America, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs premiered to a standing ovation. It became the most successful motion picture of 1938, grossing today's equivalent of $98 million.

The Disney studio continued to expand, producing such animated classics as Pinocchio, Bambi, and Dumbo. During WWII, it was also commissioned to created instructional films for the military. It wasn't until the late-1940s that the studio would again branch out in a major way. It began creating live action films such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Parent Trap, which proved to be major successes.

But, perhaps the biggest change for the company came after visiting a children's theme park in Oakland, California, when Disney began to sketch his own plans for an amusement park to be called Disneyland. Five years in the making, Disney formed WED Enterprises to create the park in Anaheim and it opened on July 18, 1955. In 1964, Disney decided to create Disney World, a similar, but larger and more elaborate version of Disneyland in Florida. Both ventures would prove to be extremely successful, becoming two of the largest theme park resorts in the world.
Inside The Magic Kingdom: How Disney Achieved Success

"Always remember that this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse," said Disney.

Walt created the world's first multimedia empire and he did it by making people smile. An entrepreneur with a natural flair for animation, Disney became one of the world's best-known and respected entertainers, creating a company that continues to gross over $30 billion yearly. What was the secret behind the magic?

He Pushed His Sales: From cartoons to movies to theme parks to merchandise, Disney tried to ensure that wherever possible, he was seizing the opportunity to promote his brand. A master at cross-promotion and brand stretching, Disney made certain that wherever he could remind people about his products, that he took advantage of that chance. He was a pioneer that pushed the worlds of marketing and merchandising to new levels.

He Followed His Dreams: "You reach a point where you don't work for money," Disney said. He reached that point early on in his career; he had pursued his passion to the point where he had made it successful and his work became a pleasure. He encountered obstacles and discouragement at every step of the way, but was passionate and courageous enough to continue working towards his goals in spite of everything. "All the adversity I've had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me," he said.

He Was Creative: "I first saw the site for Disneyland back in 1953," said Disney. "In those days it was all flat land - no rivers, no mountains, no castles or rocket ships - just orange groves, and a few acres of walnut trees." Where others saw a blank canvass, Disney saw a work of art. He noticed opportunities where others had not even been looking. It was his creativity and his fertile imagination that enabled him to sustain a decades-long successful career.

He Seized Control: After an early learning experience, Disney quickly came to understand the importance of having creative control and legal ownership of his work. Once he had become his own boss, Disney prided himself on his management skills, maintaining a hands-on approach while still giving his employers a degree of independence. By taking control of his own business, Disney steered himself to success.

He Was Selective: "You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you," said Disney. Despite his success, Disney was not without his failures. He, too, had to learn the difference between passion and blind faith. While passion was a crucial ingredient to his success, Disney grew to understand that passion and business savvy did not always go hand in hand and that success required sacrifice.

Disney died on December 15, 1966 of lung cancer but his legacy carries on to this day. As a producer, director and animator, Disney created one of the world's most recognized and cherished brands. To other budding entrepreneurs, he says this: "The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing."
Walt Disney World

In the Frommer's Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, author Bob Sehlinger says, "When it comes to Walt Disney World you either need a plan or a frontal lobotomy." Indeed, as huge a complex of theme parks as it is, without adequate research, there are undoubtedly many things that would never be noticed or uncovered by the public. From what goes on in the 'backstage' areas to the number of ghosts that 'live' in the Haunted Mansion, Walt Disney World trivia is the subject of much eager discussion.

Did you know that there are over 20,000 different colours of paint used in the theme park? Or that more than 50 million soft drinks are sold there annually? How about the fact that Walt Disney originally wanted to name Mickey Mouse 'Mortimer', but his wife Lillian wisely convinced him to change the famous character's name while they were taking a train ride from New York to California? Mickey now has 175 different outfits in his wardrobe, including a scuba suit and a tuxedo. Meanwhile, his better half Minnie Mouse has a massive walk-in closet that stores over 200 outfits, including a cheerleader's costume.

The success of the attraction and the achievements of its founder are all the more remarkable considering the he himself completed just one year of high school. Today, Kodak estimates that four percent of all amateur photographs worldwide are taken by guests at one of the company's theme parks. Indeed, because of the number of people that come to the attraction from around the world, the resort has begun to cater to its international guests; telephone information is printed in almost every language, while guidebooks are written in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, and Japanese. Cast members who can speak foreign languages wear a badge with the flag of that country on their uniforms to make themselves visible.

Walt Disney World might be one of the most well known attractions in the world, but the processes that make it run are much less so. For instance, every year it uses on average 194,871 miles of toilet paper, 319,353 lbs. of chocolate, 2.9 million pounds of eggs, 3.8 million ballpoint pens, and $1.7 million worth of worms in order to feed all the animals at the Walt Disney World Animal Kingdom. Every day, it uses 15 million gallons of water and has its lawn mowed three times each week. Not everything goes smoothly at the resort; in 2004, roughly 214,000 bandages were given out to guests who had injured themselves.

When Walt Disney World had its 15 year anniversary in 1986, prizes were given out to guests every 15 seconds; everything from small buttons to cars were handed out. Now in its 36th year, its popularity continues to grow. So, too, does the size and scope of the resort. Today, a single day trip to the park will not be enough to see and do everything that is offered.
Walt Disney Resort

In 1955, the first Walt Disney Resort opened in Anaheim, California. It was extremely popular, but despite its success, market research revealed that only two percent of visitors that came to the resort were from east of the Mississippi River. It was failing to attract people from the region where three quarters of the American population actually lived. Founder Walt Disney was also unhappy with many of the businesses that had sprung up around Disneyland and wanted more control over a larger area of land.

It was on November 22, 1963 when the company founder first flew over the tract of land just outside Orlando, Florida that would go on to become his second theme park. He wanted to have an amount of land for his new attraction so large that it better isolated visitors from the real world. After all, popular legend among company employees says that one family left Disneyland early because they could see rush hour traffic building up on the Santa Ana Freeway from the Skyway ride. He did not want that to happen again.

He decided that this would be an ideal home for the second park. It was a prime piece of real estate, located right at the intersection of Florida's major freeway routes. Cunning businessman that he was, Disney created a number of dummy corporations to purchase the land he wanted in smaller tracts so as to avoid a burst of land speculation and keep prices down. The first five-acre lot purchased in 1964 was done so by Ayefour Corporation - a pun on Interstate 4. The next year, two larger tracts were bought for $1.5 million by seemingly foreign companies, such as Latin-American Development and Management Corporation and Reedy Creek Ranch Corporation.

In most cases, buying land for the Florida Walt Disney Resort presented few obstacles. Primarily swampland, its owners were by and large happy to get rid of it. Mineral rights to the land were owned by Tufts University, meaning that at any time, Tufts could come in and order the theme park closed in order to obtain minerals. However, the Walt Disney Company was able to ensure the transfer of these rights.

On October 20, 1965, after most of the land for the park had already been purchased, the truth about the dummy corporations was leaked to the Orlando Sentinel. Disney subsequently organized a press conference to announce the plans for the new resort Disney died in 1966, almost five years before his dream had been established in Florida. However, his brother Roy postponed his own retirement in order to carry out his younger brother's vision. Construction of the resort continued over the next five years. On October 1, 1971, the theme park was officially opened to the public. Following the dedication ceremony, Disney's widow Lillian was asked what she thought of the newly completed Walt Disney Resort. "I think Walt would have approved," she replied.
Walt Disney Florida

Following the success of the world famous Disneyland in California, founder Walt Disney wanted to expand his operations. He quietly began purchasing land in central Florida under the mask of fake companies in order to keep prices low. On February 2, 1967, after meeting with various local legislative, civic, and industrial leaders, a new Walt Disney Florida project was announced in a press release by Walt Disney Productions. Called "Disney World," this new Walt Disney Florida project was to be built on a 43-square mile piece of land sixteen miles southwest of Orlando, Florida.

Basic elements of the project were to be similar to the California amusement park, including outdoor sports centres and a series of theme motels surrounding the area. However, there were also planned to be a number of major differences between this and California ventures, namely the establishment of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT), which was supposed to become home to 20,000 permanent residents and serve as a real-life lab for new technologies and ideas about the urban future.

It is the largest theme park resort in the world, with over 20,000 acres to its name. In addition to its four major theme parks - the Magic Kingdom, the Epcot Centre, the Disney-MGM Studios, and the Animal Kingdom - it is home to two water parks, six golf courses, a sports complex, an auto racetrack, twenty resort hotels, and a host of other shopping and dining facilities. Believe it or not, it even has its own fire department.

The entire cost of the project was meant to cost $600 million and take years to construct. However, it was estimated that in its first ten years of operation, the park would directly generate $6.6 billion - half from expenditures by tourists and half from new jobs created. At the press conference where it was first announced, CEO Roy O. Disney - Walt's younger brother - said, "Our Corporation is dedicated to making Walt Disney's dream a reality." Completing the project had become the founder's new dream.

Plans for its construction first began in 1959, when the company founder decided that he wanted to take advantage of the success he had experienced with Disneyland in California. The project was announced in 1965 and construction began eight years later. It first opened in 1971 with the Magic Kingdom. The other theme parks and attractions would be launched over time. The most recent addition came with the opening of Disney's Beach Club Villas, Pop Century Resort, and Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. A fleet of twelve monorails also runs between each of the theme parks and the resorts in what is perhaps the best-known monorail system in North America.

In order to run all these facilities, Walt Disney Orlando employs over 58,000 people and spends more than $1.1 billion on payroll. It is in fact the largest single-site employer in the U.S. With the streets of the parks being cleaned every night and the painting of the antique carousel horses using genuine gold leaf, Walt Disney Orlando costs an annual $100 million to maintain. These costs rise during Christmas season, when 150 truckloads of decorations are brought in, carrying over 300,000 yards of ribbon and 1,500 Christmas trees.

It is interesting that despite the claim to fame the city of Orlando has experienced since it's opening, the entire attraction does not even exist within the city. In fact, it lies outside of the city limits, within Orange and Osceola counties. This, however, has not prevented the people of Orlando from claiming it as their own. The attraction also donates much of its revenues to Orlando-based charities. In 2006, it donated more than $22 million to Central Florida charities and non-profit organizations. Its employees also contributed over 200,000 hours of community service to local organizations.

Despite its success the venture has not been without its problems. Indeed, the recent controversy between Disney Vice Chairman Roy Edward Disney - nephew of the company's founder - and CEO Michael Eisner was much publicized. Disney felt Eisner had turned the company into a "rapacious, soul-less" company, and resigned from his position. In 2004, Disney released this statement: "Closure of the Walt Disney Florida Feature Animation facility is yet another example of Michael Eisner's de-emphasis of creativity and total indifference to the impact his decisions have on the people who helped to make the company great."

The project opened its doors on October 1, 1971. Today, the attraction receives over 40 million visitors each year and that number continues to grow. It was one of the largest contributors to the over $34.3 billion in revenues the parent company generated in 2006.
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