How Walt Disney’s First Cartoons Drove Him To Bankruptcy

Having fallen on hard times (sadly, a regular theme throughout Elias Disney’s life), the family moved to Kansas City in 1910, where Walt would remain until he relocated to Los Angeles, California, in 1923. Life was much harder in the city; gone was the wildlife, livestock, and scenic beauty, replaced with the harsh reality of responsibility and hardship. The Disney children were recruited by their father to deliver papers, which was gruelling work — especially in the harsh, midwestern winters. At least Walt had his older brother Roy, eight years his senior, looking out for him. The two shared a special bond, with Roy being a pragmatic mentor of sorts who clearly had a special affection for his baby brother.    

Walt’s first real escape came when he was just 17. After a stint with the Red Cross Ambulance Corps at the tail end of the Great War, he spent some time in France before returning to Kansas City, where — after turning to Roy for advice — he landed a short-lived art gig apprenticing for professional artists Louis Pesmen and William Rubin (Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Art Studio). The job mainly involved art work for advertisements and catalogs. Still, it was drawing professionally for a living, and the young Disney was ecstatic to be one step closer to his cartoonist dreams. Unfortunately, his employment would only last a mere six weeks, but it did result in a fateful introduction: Ubbe Iwerks.

(If that name sounds familiar, it’s probably because Iwerks was the “father” of Mickey Mouse — but that’s a subject for a later date.)

After the two artists were laid off, Iwerks (who later shortened his name to Ub Iwerks) and Disney teamed up to create their own art studio, Iwerks-Disney (because “Disney-Iwerks” sounded too much like an optometry business). This too was short-lived, but in this case, it was because better opportunities came along.

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