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Celebrating a Century of Disney

How many times have you been to Disneyland? Walt Disney World? How many Disney cartoons have you watched? Disney movies? How much Disney merchandise and memorabilia do you own?

Over time, the numbers add up. And that’s what this article is all about…numbers and time. This year, 2023, is the 100th anniversary of The Walt Disney Company. I know because I see the signs every time I walk into Disneyland, and I was reminded again during a recent trip to Walt Disney World. Plus, celebration merchandise is everywhere, and celebratory shows are streaming on Disney+.

As fans of The Wisdom of Walt, let’s have our own celebration. Here are 100 fun facts about Disney (in no particular order) that you can share with friends and family throughout the upcoming year. Are any of these new to you? Which one is your favorite? Here we go!

1. 2023 is also the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney going bankrupt. His first studio, Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City, Missouri, lasted only eighteen months.

2. After going bankrupt in Kansas City, Walt boarded a train in Kansas City and headed for California. He boarded that train with $40, a single suitcase, and a one-way (first class) ticket.

3. The Walt Disney Company was founded on October 16, 1923 as The Disney Brothers Studio.

4. Roy Disney started out as a vacuum cleaner salesman and at one point encouraged Walt to take up the same career.

5. Walt Disney was the son of an illegal immigrant. His father, Elias, was born in Canada and crossed the border into the United States, without papers, in the 1880s.

6. Walt Disney’s dad, Elias, worked as a dollar-a-day carpenter at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Illinois. He used the money from that job to build the house where Walt was born in December 1901.

7. Walt Disney barely survived the last global pandemic, contracting the Spanish Flu in Fall 1918.

8. Walt Disney never made it past ninth grade in his formal education.

9. Near the end of World War I, Walt Disney served as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross in France.

10. Walt Disney was only able to join the Red Cross after his mother, Flora, helped him forge the date on his birth certificate.

11. When Walt Disney left Kansas City for California in 1923, his older brother Roy was in a VA hospital recovering from tuberculosis, which he had contracted while serving in the Navy during World War I.

12. The difference between the failure of Walt’s first studio in Kansas City and the success of his second studio in California wasn’t Walt. The difference was his older brother, Roy.

13. Walt’s first successful cartoon character wasn’t Mickey Mouse but Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

14. In 1928, Walt lost the rights to Oswald in a dispute with Charles Mintz and Universal (distributor). Facing a second bankruptcy, this loss forced him to come up with Mickey Mouse.

15. The first Mickey Mouse cartoon wasn’t Steamboat Willie but Plane Crazy (May 1928). However, Walt added sound to Steamboat Willie and it was released first (November 18, 1928).

16. To help pay for the sound recording of Steamboat Willie, Walt sold his beloved Moon roadster car for $475 in November 1928.

17. Walt’s original name for Mickey was Mortimer. Fortunately, his wife Lilly suggested the name Mickey, instead.

18. Mickey Mouse’s first words were “Hot Dog!”

19. Walt Disney was the original voice of Mickey Mouse.

20. Mickey Mouse was the first cartoon character to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

21. In 2006, Disney regained the rights to Oswald by trading broadcaster Al Michaels (under contract with ABC/Disney) to NBC/Universal.

22. In 1928, Walt and Roy built “kit homes” adjacent to each other on Lyric Avenue in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles.

23. On successive days in 1938, Walt received honorary degrees from Harvard and Yale.

24. Walt and Lilly’s youngest daughter, Sharon, was adopted.

25. The day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the Army took over the Disney Studio in Burbank, California. During World War II, 90 percent of studio employees worked on propaganda, training, and educational films.

26. Walt Disney brought home more Oscars than any other person, with 22 wins and 59 nominations.

27. Walt Disney was the Grand Marshall of the Rose Parade on January 1, 1966.

28. Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966 at St. Joseph Hospital in Burbank and directly across the street from the studio he had built following the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

29. Walt Disney’s last words were “Kurt Russell.”

30. Each year, Walt gave the family housekeeper Disney stock as part of her annual Christmas gift. She kept the stock…worth approximately $4,500,000 when she died in 1994.

31. Walt originally wanted to build Disneyland in Burbank on eight acres of extra land he had available at the studio, but the Burbank City Council turned down his proposal.

32. Walt hired The Stanford Research Institute to find the best location for Disneyland in Southern California. SRI was led by Harrison “Buzz” Price and C.V. Wood, i.e. Buzz and Woody!

33. Original names for Disneyland included Mickey Mouse Park and Disneylandia.

34. Construction of Disneyland displaced more than 12,000 orange trees.

35. To help pay for the construction of Disneyland, Walt sold the family’s vacation home in Palm Springs.

36. Art Linkletter hosted the live television opening day broadcast on July 17, 1955. July 17 was also Art Linkletter’s birthday.

37. Along with Art Linkletter and Bob Cummings, Ronald Reagan was also one of the broadcasters for the opening day of Disneyland.

38. Disneyland’s opening day broadcast on ABC, July 17, 1955, was viewed by 90 million Americans and was the largest, live television broadcast to date…surpassing the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, viewed by 20 million Americans.

39. It cost $1 to get into Disneyland when it opened in 1955.

40. Disneyland is officially known as “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

41. The Jungle Cruise was the only attraction not to break down on Disneyland’s opening day.

42. Walt originally wanted live animals for Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise but eventually had to settle for simple mechanical animals instead.

43. Disneyland opened with a women’s lingerie shop on Main Street U.S.A., “The Wizard of Bras.”

44. “The Wizard of Bras” was one on the first stores to close at Disneyland. Unfortunately, it went bust due to a lack of support….

45. Disneyland’s original Tomorrowland was built around a vision of the future in…1986.

46. Today, most of the landscaping in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland is edible, a testament to Walt’s vision for a sustainable future and a “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.”

47. For a short time, the Jungle Cruise queue at Disneyland featured live alligators.

48. Disneyland’s Tom Sawyer Island is the only attraction single-handedly designed by Walt Disney himself.

49. Kevin Costner once worked as a Jungle Cruise Skipper at Disneyland. There, he met his first wife, Cindy, who was playing Snow White.

50. Richard Nixon’s Press Secretary, Ron Ziegler, once worked as a Jungle Cruise Skipper at Disneyland.

51. Doritos were invented at Disneyland.

52. Then Vice-President Richard Nixon, and his family, cut the ribbon on Disneyland’s Monorail on June 14, 1959.

53. In 1961, Tiny Kline, a seventy-year-old grandmother, became the first Tinkerbell to fly over Disneyland.

54. Carousel of Progress, originally built for General Electric and the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, was Walt Disney’s all-time favorite attraction.

55. Walt used to put his grandkids into the parades at Disneyland to get his wife, Lilly, to come to the park.

56. The first time the original four members of The Eagles ever played together as a band was at Disneyland.

57. New Orleans Square, Disneyland’s first new land, which opened in 1966, cost approximately $15,000,000…same as the entire Louisiana Purchase back in 1803.

58. A total of 999 ghosts, or “happy haunts” inhabit the Haunted Mansion. And there’s always room for one more….

59. Yale Gracey, one of the lead Imagineers on the Haunted Mansion, was murdered in his home in 1983. The case has never been solved.

60. Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney’s most popular attraction, was originally under construction as a rather pedestrian, walk-through wax museum.

61. Pirates of the Caribbean is the last attraction Walt personally worked on before his death in December 1966. The attraction opened three months later (March 1967).

62. Walt Disney’s final trip to Disneyland was on October 14, 1966. He was there to honor a group of Congressional Medal of Honor winners with dinner at the Plaza Inn and a private viewing of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

63. Abraham Lincoln was Walt Disney’s favorite President.

64. Disney did not break ground on Walt Disney World until almost six months after Walt’s death (December 15, 1966—May 30, 1967).

65. Following Walt’s death, it was Roy who insisted that Disney World be called Walt Disney World in honor of his brother.

66. The first time Walt saw the property that would become Walt Disney World was November 22, 1963…the day President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

67. Five “dummy corporations” were created so Disney could secretly purchase the land it needed in Florida for Walt Disney World. These companies were: Latin-American Development and Management Corp., Tomahawk Properties, Ayefour Corporation, Bay Lake Properties, Compass East Corporation.

68. Possible locations for Walt’s “East Coast Disneyland” included St. Louis, Niagara Falls, New York, Washington, DC, and Palm Beach, Florida.

69. Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World are in Orange County.

70. Walt Disney’s parents, Elias and Flora, were married in Acron, Florida on January 1, 1888. Today Acron is officially a ghost town but is near Kissimmee, i.e., just outside the gates of Walt Disney World.

71. It cost $3.50 to get into Walt Disney World when it opened in 1971.

72. Walt Disney World is officially known as “The Most Magical Place on Earth.”

73. When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, its official tagline was “Vacation Kingdom of the World.”

74. Magic Kingdom is the most visited park at Walt Disney World and also the smallest (107 acres).

75. Prince Charming Regal Carousel is the oldest attraction at Magic Kingdom, built in 1917 for Detroit’s Belle Isle Park.

76. Liberty Square at Walt Disney World has exactly zero bathrooms. Imagineers wanted to keep this area as authentic as possible to the Colonial Era 1700s when there was no indoor plumbing!

77. Disney gardeners have grown more than 500 oak trees using acorns from the Liberty Tree in Liberty Square.

78. The Country Bear Jamboree Show was originally designed as an attraction for the Mineral King Ski Resort that Walt dreamed of building in the mountains of Eastern California.

79. The original name for Splash Mountain was Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah River Run.

80. Richard Nixon’s famous “I’m Not a Crook” speech was delivered at Walt Disney World’s Contemporary Resort in 1973.

81. The Beatles officially broke up when John Lennon signed the paperwork while staying at Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Resort in December 1974.

82. Epcot’s iconic Spaceship Earth consists of more than 11 million triangles.

83. Spaceship Earth weighs 16 million pounds.

84. Science fiction writer, and Walt Disney’s friend, Ray Bradbury helped develop the storyline for Spaceship Earth.

85. The only inaugural parade to take place outside of Washington, DC took place in Epcot in May 1985. Due to the bitter cold in January, President Reagan’s second inauguration was moved inside, and the parade in Washington, DC canceled, but Disney offered to host the parade in a warmer climate a few months later.

86. At six acres, The Land is the largest pavilion in Epcot.

87. At 65 mph, Test Track is the fastest attraction at Walt Disney World.

88. Soarin’ was originally designed as an attraction for the Disney’s America park in Virginia that was planned, and scrapped, in the 1990s.

89. “If you can dream it, you can do it,” was written by Tom Fitzgerald for the Horizons attraction in Epcot. Many, however, attribute it to Walt Disney himself.

90. Disneyland’s second gate, California Adventure, was originally going to be WestCot…a West Coast version of Epcot.

91. Hollywood Studios was originally designed to be a pavilion at Epcot.

92. Hollywood Studios opened with five attractions, none of which survive today.

93. When Hollywood Studios was a working studio, Mulan, Lilo and Stitch, and Brother Bear were produced there.

94. Walt Disney World’s longest-running stage show, Beauty and the Beast—Live on Stage, opened on November 22, 1991…the same day the movie was released in theatres.

95. U2 was the first band Disney approached to star in Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster. When they declined, Disney offered it to Aerosmith, who accepted.

96. The attraction with the greatest number of “hidden Mickeys” is Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

97. Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom is home to more than 1,700 animals and 250 different species.

98. At 199.5 feet, Expedition Everest is the tallest attraction at Walt Disney World. Half a foot taller than The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and half a foot below the FAA limit for requiring a red beacon.

99. Walt Disney World’s Typhoon Lagoon is the most visited water park in the United States.

100. When he died in 2011, Steve Jobs was Disney’s largest stockholder (138 million shares).

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