Happy Birthday Walt Disney! 23 Things You May Not Know About the American Icon

Recently, I was sitting around chit-chatting with my husband when I was struck with a question which shook me to my core: What if Walt Elias Disney was never born? If this iconic visionary wasn’t brought into the world on December 5, 1901, we wouldn’t have Mickey Mouse, beloved live action films like Mary Poppins, animated classics like Snow White, and there would be no Disneyland. Anaheim would not be the “happiest place on Earth.”

This year would have been Walt Disney’s 112th birthday. To celebrate this visionary who changed not just entertainment and family vacations, but countless childhood memories as well, we have collected 23 things you may not know about the one and only Walt Disney.

  • 23 Things You May Not Know About Walt Disney 1 of 24
    Disney Happy Birthday

    Check out these 23 fun facts in honor of Walt Disney's birthday!

  • Walt Had Four Siblings 2 of 24
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    Walt had four siblings: Roy, Herbert, Raymond, and Ruth. Roy was eight years older and  became Walt's business partner, Herbert was twelve years older than Walt, Raymond was ten years older than Walt, and Ruth Disney was the baby of the family at two years younger than Walt.

     

    Source: Biography.com

    Photo Source: Walt Disney via The Turnaround Authority

  • Early Start 3 of 24
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    Walt started his creative career very early on. He started to sell his early sketches to his neighbors when he was just seven years old. When he was about nine years old, he had his first job delivering papers for his dad in Kansas City, Missouri.

     

    Source: Disney Trivia, Walt Disney Museum,  The Story of Walt Disney by Diane Disney Miller

    Photo Source: D23

  • Joined the Military at 16 4 of 24
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    Walt Disney wanted to join the military, but was turned down because he was only 16. But in 1918, he manipulated his birth certificate and successfully joined the Red Cross the day before his 17th birthday. He was sent off to France and was an ambulance driver for a year (the ambulance above is like the one that Walt drove; this one is at the Walt Disney Family Museum.)

     

    Source: Walt Disney Family Museum

    Photo Source: Walt Disney Museum

  • His Wife, Lillian, Was One of His First Employees 5 of 24
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    Walt Disney met his wife Lillian on the job. Lillian Bounds had recently moved to California from Idaho and was one of the first Disney employees. The two were married in the living room of Lillian's uncle's house in Lewiston, Idaho on July 13, 1925.

     

    Source: Walt Disney Museum and Walt Disney Museum here.

    Photo Source: Disney Parks Blog

  • Came to Hollywood With Just $40 6 of 24
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    In August of 1923, Walt Disney made a very bold move. He left Kansas City for Hollywood at the suggestion of his brother Roy. He said of the move: "It was July 1923. I packed all of my worldly goods a pair of trousers, a checkered coat, a lot of drawing materials and the last of the fairy tale reels we had made in a kind of frayed cardboard suitcase. And with that wonderful audacity of youth, I went to Hollywood, arriving there with just forty dollars. It was a big day the day I got on that Santa Fe California Limited. I was just free and happy!"
     

    Source: Disney Parks Blog

    Photo Source: Disney ParksBlog

  • Walt Had Two Children 7 of 24
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    Walt Disney and Lillian had two children. Their first child, Diane Disney Miller, was born after Lillian had two miscarriages. Before her birth, Walt had written to his mother saying, "Lilly is partial to a girl baby. Personally, I don't care -- just as long as we do not get disappointed again." They had hoped to have another child four years later, but Lillian suffered another miscarriage. They then opted to adopt. On December 21, 1936, Sharon Mae Disney was born and joined the family two weeks later.

     

    Source: Walt Disney Family Museum here and Walt Disney Family Museum here

    Photo Source: Disney Insider

  • First Sound Cartoon 8 of 24
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    Walt Disney was the first to marry sound and picture in the animated form, a moment that would change entertainment forever. Although Mickey Mouse made his debut in Plane Crazy, that was just a silent short. Steamboat Willie debuted at the Colony Theatre in New York on November 18, 1928 and would change Walt Disney's life forever.

     

    Source: Disney Trivia, Disney.com

    Photo Source: Wikipedia

  • He Drove His Girls to School 9 of 24
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    When I visited the Walt Disney Family Museum, I noticed a great photo on display of Walt driving a convertible with a car full of girls — an image of his two daughters and their friends heading to school. Underneath the photo there is a quote from Diane Disney Miller that states, "He enjoyed the drive and to hear the banter of me and my friends."

     

    Source: Walt Disney Family Museum

    Photo Source: Disney Insider

  • Walt’s Food Choice 10 of 24
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    Walt Disney could afford to eat the world's fanciest foods but had very humble tastes. At the Walt Disney Family Museum, they have a note that had been taped onto the family refrigerator for the family's housekeeper. It was a note written by Walt entitled: "Walt Disney's Favorites"

     

    It included:

    • Chicken Fry Cube Steak
    • Roast Lamb with Potatoes and Gravy
    • Pan-fried Chicken with Potatoes and Gravy
    • Roast Chicken with Dressing and Gravy
    • Spam and Eggs with Biscuits and Honey
    • Oyster Stew with Crackers and Cheese
    • Breaded Veal Cutlets with Bread and Gravy
    • Chasen's Chili and Beans
    • NOTE: Only one vegetable with meals — corn, canned peas, leaf spinach, stewed tomatoes, etc.

     

    SALADS:
    • Carrot and Raisin
    • Waldorf
    • Tomato and Cucumber
    • Chef's Salad

     

    DESSERTS:
    • Jell-O — All flavors with pieces of fruit
    • Diet Custards
    • Pineapple — Fresh or Canned
    • Fruit — Fresh or Canned

     

    His wife Lillian said of Walt's eating habits:  "Walt ate very simply. He liked basic foods. He loved chili. For breakfast he'd have eggs, toast, fruit juice, and an occasional sausage. Lunch was usually just a sandwich, milk, coffee … he always wanted coffee for lunch. Sometimes his secretary would call me and tell me what he had for lunch, because when he didn't like the dinner, he often used the excuse that he had had it for lunch."

     

    Source: Walt Disney Family Museum and Disneybymark

    Photo Source: Sunny Chanel

  • Walt Didn’t Graduate High School 11 of 24
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    Walt Disney didn't graduate from high school, but that didn't stop him from getting a whole lot of honorary degrees from such institutions of higher learning as Harvard and UCLA.

     

    Source: Business Insider

    Photo Source: Disney via MichaelBarrier

  • He Started a College 12 of 24
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    Before he died, Walt started to plan for the establishment of the California Institute of the Arts — a college for creative and performing arts, and a place where many a Disney employee has gotten their start, from Tim Burton to John Lasseter. Walt once said of Cal Arts,  "It's the principal thing I hope to leave when I move on to greener pastures. If I can help provide a place to develop the talent of the future, I think I will have accomplished something." He sure did!

     

    Photo Source:  Disney Insider

  • Walt Had a Passion for Polo 13 of 24
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    Walt Disney was passionate about the game of polo. In Hollywood in the 1930s, polo was huge, with about 25 polo fields in Los Angeles. Walt Disney was under an immense amount of stress, and his doctor suggested that he get some sort of exercise. He tried wrestling, boxing, and golf, but he didn't really get into any of them. He always loved horses, so he took up horseback riding and soon polo, a game he called, "golf on a horse." Walt and his brother Roy would play with an employee team twice a week. Walt had more than a dozen polo ponies (some were named June, Slim, Nava, Arrow, Pardner, Tacky, and Tommy). Walt captained the "Mickey Mouse Team," and there was also a "Donald Duck Team."

     

    There was even a short of Mickey Mouse playing polo, which you can watch right here.

     

    At one point during his time playing polo, Walt was hit so hard by a ball that he fell off his horse. And he fell hard. He crushed four of his cervical vertebrae. He did not heal properly, and he was plagued with neck pain for the rest of his life.

     Photo Source: Walt Disney Family Museum - Sunny Chanel

    Source: Mouse Planet

  • He Loved His Ranch 14 of 24
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    Have you noticed the tie pin on the Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse "Partners" statue? Some make the mistake of thinking it was a Japanese character, but it's actually the brand of the Smoke Tree Ranch, a second home for the Disney family.

     

    The Smoke Tree Ranch is located in Palm Springs and the Disney family would spend many a long weekend there. They started to go in the 1930s. "I remember Doyle trying to get me interested as a partner," Walt Disney said. "I didn't have the money he thought I did, for I was still having problems financing my productions. Actually, it wasn't until after Mickey Mouse that we could afford to have a house there."

     

    Walt sold the family's first home at Smoke Tree Ranch to raise money to build Disneyland. But once he had the funds, he built another home. He lovingly called their home there his "laughing place."

     

    Source: Palm Springs Life

    Photo Source: Disney Parks Blog

  • Walt Collected Miniatures 15 of 24
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    At the Walt Disney Family Museum, Walt's personal miniature collection on display. It's a very impressive array of furniture, tiny cutlery sets and other unique items.

     

    "I've been collecting all sorts of miniatures pieces. It's been a wonderful hobby for me and I find that it is something very relaxing to turn to when studio problems become too hectic."

    Source: Walt Disney Family Museum photo by Sunny Chanel

  • He Loved Trains 16 of 24
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    Along with miniatures, Walt had a passion for trains. He spent a whole lot of time, money and energy building the Carolwood Pacific Railroad, a 1/8 scale miniature railroad that he built in the backyard of his Holmby Hills home.

     

    The Carolwood's Lilly Belle (as well as some of his other 'rolling stock') is on display at the Walt Disney Family Museum and the barn, which housed his collection, is now on loan to the city of Los Angeles and is available to be seen by the public at Griffith Park.

     

    Source: Carolwood

    Photo Source: Sunny Chanel

  • He Dreamed of Being an Urban Planner 17 of 24
    EPCOT Concept 1966

    Walt Disney had a vested interest in how people live, work and in improving the quality of life in American cities. His big project, one that he was very passionate about, was his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (or EPCOT).

     

    Disney stated:  "I don't believe there is a challenge anywhere in the world that is more important to people everywhere than finding the solutions to the problems of our cities. But where do we begin? Well, we're convinced we must start with the public need. And the need is not just for curing the old ills of old cities. We think the need is for starting from scratch on virgin land and building a community that will become a prototype for the future."

     

    Source: JustDisney

    Photo Source: Walt Disney via LaBeauleblog

  • He Wanted to Open a Walt Disney Ski Resort 18 of 24
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    You can enjoy Disney magic in Anaheim. You can enjoy Disney magic in Orlando. You can enjoy Disney magic in Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Hawaii and at sea. But there were once plans to also have Disney magic in the snow. In the mid-60s, Walt Disney had plans to open a ski resort in the Sierra Nevadas in the Mineral King section.  Walt Disney said of the area, "When I first saw Mineral King five years ago, I thought it was one of the most beautiful spots I had ever seen and we want to keep it that way." But after ten years of development and legal battles with the Sierra Club, his "Alpine Village" would never be built.

    Source: Yesterland, WaltDisney.org

     Photo Source: Disney via MiceChat

     

     

  • This Was Not Walt’s Signature 19 of 24
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    You know the very famous "Walt Disney" signature? Well, that's not actually Walt's signature. The famous Disney signature is a "stylized version" of Walt's. There is also the rumor that Walt couldn't reproduce the signature.

     

    Source: Time.com

    Photo Source: Disney

  • There’s a Debate About the Last Words That Walt Wrote 20 of 24
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    The last words Walt Disney's apparently wrote were "Kurt Russell." Kurt Russell himself related the story to Jimmy Kimmel in 2007 saying, "It's true. I don't know what to make of that. I was taken into his office one time after he died and I was shown that." At the time Kurt Russell was a child actor and had just signed a ten year contract with Disney.

     

    But Jim Korkis of MousePlanet.com states that "Kurt Russell" was not the last written words by Disney,  just one of the last, just one of the last since no one is quite sure what he wrote down outside of his office.

     

    Source: USA Today

    Photo Source: Target - DVD Available here

  • Could it Have Been D’Isignyland? 21 of 24
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    The last time Disney was actually - centuries ago - D'Isigny. Walt's family, originally came from a town in France called Isigny-Sur-Mer.

     

    Source: USA Today

    Photo Source: Wikipedia

  • Walt Mortgaged His House for Snow White 22 of 24
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    Walt Disney took a great big risk with the making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs both professionally and financially. To finish the film he had to mortgage his home. But the gamble paid off and the the film was a huge success.

    Source: Business Insider

     

    Photo Source: Disney Parks Blog

     

  • Most Oscars! 23 of 24
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    The Walt Disney company holds the record for most Academy Awards nominations and most Oscars won. And yes, that's me holding one of Disney's Oscars!

    Source: Business Insider

    Photos Source: Sunny Chanel

     

     

  • His First Company 24 of 24
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    Walt Disney's first company was called Laugh-O-Gram which existed in the early 1920's back in Kansas City. But just one year later he was forced to declare bankruptcy.  But really Laugh-O-Gramland really wouldn't have the same ring now would it?

     Source: Walt Disney Museum

    Photo Source: Walt Disney Museum

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