Beginnings: Walt Disney’s Early Years (1901-1923)

Walt Disney was born in Chicago, IL on December 5, 1901. In 1906, his family moved to a Missouri farm, where he had an idyllic early childhood and first learned to draw. The farm failed, and in 1911 his family moved to Kansas City, MO where he rose at 3:30 a.m. to deliver newspapers on his father’s paper route and fell in love with vaudeville and movies. In 1917, the family moved to Chicago, where Walt created cartoons for his high school yearbook, took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, and tried to enlist in the U.S. Army. Rejected for being underage, he joined the American Ambulance Corps and arrived in France as World War I ended. When Walt returned to the United States, he settled in Kansas City and got a job at a commercial art studio. In 1920, while working at an ad company, Walt discovered the fantastical world of animation and immersed himself in the young medium. While keeping his day job, he began making Laugh-O-gram ad reels and animation shorts with artist Ub Iwerks. Laugh-O-grams Films soon went bankrupt, and Walt, at age 21 moved to California with $40 in his pocket.

Walt's early drawings and mementoes from his childhood, as well as cameras similar to those he used in Kansas City, are highlighted in the Museum's first gallery.