Elias Disney: The Man Who Raised Walt Disney

Posted on Wed, 02/06/2013 - 10:30

On February 6, we celebrate the anniversary of the birthday of a man who is sometimes overlooked in accounts of Disney history: Elias Disney, Walt’s and Roy’s father. Born of Irish stock in Ontario, Canada in 1859, Elias lived a rugged pioneer life, moving around the United States and trying his hand at a variety of trades. 

Elias married Flora Call in 1888, and together they had five children: Herbert, Raymond, Roy, Walt, and Ruth. Flora was a strong, supportive wife who encouraged Elias in his endeavors and helped him raise their children. By the time his fourth child, Walter, was born, Elias was 42 years old. He lived to see two of his sons start a business together, attain a modest success, and then build on that success to achieve worldwide recognition.

Elias Disney’s Work Ethic

Elias was a worker. During his lifetime he worked as a farmer, a machinist, a carpenter, a hotel proprietor, and a construction supervisor. He helped to build the Union Pacific railroad, the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago—and the house in which Walt was born. His ongoing efforts to care for his family took them to both urban and rural environments, so that Walt’s own early life experience encompassed both the small-town charm of Marceline and the bustling streets of Chicago and Kansas City.

Qualities of Elias Passed On

Elias’s seemingly endless capacity for hard work set a clear pattern for the career of his most famous son. And Walt inherited other traits from Elias. Perhaps chief among these was an entrepreneurial spirit and a fierce tenacity, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Along with these qualities, Elias had a cultural side. He urged on his children the importance of education; and his fiddle, now on display in the museum, testifies to his interest in music—another obvious influence on Walt.

Like many a parent who has endured a hard life, Elias wanted something better for his children. He may not always have understood or approved of Walt’s artistic ambitions, but he cared deeply for all his children and strove to give them an honest, healthy upbringing. Today we honor Elias for his life and for his nurturing influence on the life of our namesake, Walt Disney.

Visit Us and Learn More About Disney’s Amazing History 

Originally constructed in 1897 as an Army barracks, our iconic building transformed into The Walt Disney Family Museum more than a century later, and today houses some of the most interesting and fun museum exhibitions in the US. Explore the life story of the man behind the brand—Walt Disney. You’ll love the iconic Golden Gate Bridge views and our interactive exhibitions here in San Francisco. You can learn more about visiting us here.

–J.B. Kaufman

J.B. Kaufman is a writer and film historian on the staff of the Walt Disney Family Foundation, and has published extensively on topics including Disney animation and American silent film. He is author of South of the Border with Disney and co-author, with Russell Merritt, of Walt in Wonderland: The Silent Films of Walt Disney and Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies: A Companion to the Classic Cartoon Series. He has also contributed to the Griffith Project and other series at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, Italy.