American Icon: Mickey Mouse

American Icon: Mickey Mouse

A Decade by Decade Guide



 Originally known as ‘Mortimer Mouse’, Mickey Mouse made his screen debut in November of 1928 as the lead actor in the first sound cartoon – Steamboat Willie. Since then, Mickey has risen to fame, and is now the personification of Disney, as well as one of the most recognised symbols on the planet. 
At almost 90 years old, Mickey is still looking pretty good. He is a little rounder these days, but he hasn’t a grey hair to be seen, and according to studies, he has the most recognisable face on the planet second to none.  
We take a look at the evolution of the world’s most celebrated mouse, and discover exactly what makes him the ultimate American icon.



1920s: The Birth of an Icon


Created in early 1928, Mickey was originally dreamed up during a train ride in which Walt was returning home from a business meeting. Originally called ‘Mortimer Mouse’, the iconic mouse was the rebound creation after the loss of ‘Oswald the Rabbit’ during a business transaction gone wrong. Though Mickey was originally an afterthought, created in the fallout of a lost business negotiation, it cannot be denied, that on that train, on that fateful day…a star was born.

Originally, Walt had trouble selling his Mickey Mouse films, with the first two being scrapped after being rejected and labelled ‘old-fashioned’ –largely due to their silent nature and the slow demise of the silent film industry. However Walt’s perseverance paid off. After pushing forward on his third Mickey film project, this time with sound, Steamboat Willie was picked up by the Colony Theatre in New York and was an immediate hit.

Following the triumph of Steamboat Willie, Walt made sure he did the one thing that would ensure Mickey would be a star: he started marketing the mouse. Walt quickly produced a line of Mickey Mouse merchandise including watches, plush toys and lamps which went on sale.  


Watch Steamboat Willie HERE



1930s: The Rise of an Icon


After the international success of Steamboat Willie, Walt Disney generated almost 90 animated shorts featuring Mickey Mouse, many of which came to include a bright cast of supporting characters such as Minnie, Clarabelle, Pluto Goofy and Donald. At this stage Walt provided the high-pitched voice of the mouse himself.

The popularity of Mickey Mouse led to the establishment of the ‘Mickey Mouse Club’ and in 1932 Walt received an Oscar for the creation of Mickey. This period saw a flood of interest in the black-and-white mouse through the film shorts and a comic strip which featured in a newspaper.

During the 1930s Mickey was able to branch out within his storylines – during this decade he found himself as many things including a footballer, a hunter and a tailor. He also found himself in many sticky situations - he sprayed himself with garden pesticide, rescued Pluto, crashed his car, enlisted in the army and had his house repossessed. The animations during this period disclosed a Mickey Mouse that got into mischief and mayhem – his personality was fully revealed and critics loved it.



1940s: The Golden Age


Mickey’s career came to a climax in 1940 when Walt made him the star of his feature film Fantasia. The film, now considered a cult classic, was an artistic expression of colour, shape and story, set to classical music.

While Fantasia broke the mould for film and sound and sent Mickey to international stardom, it was the last the world would see of Mickey in animated film for some time. The rest of the 1940s were spent concentrating on the Second World War, with Mickey featuring on much of the memorabilia of the time including badges and posters for war bonds. The profits made from merchandise based on Mickey Mouse allowed the Disney Company to fund their other projects and made Disney a household name.



1950s: The Advancing Years


The end of the war allowed Mickey to reclaim his rightful place on the big screen, with his return to features being marked by his role in Fun and Fancy Free. Though Mickey was back, his presence gave way for his supporting characters such as Donald, Daisy and Pluto who added depth and flexibility to the stories in which Mickey found himself.

Despite Mickey taking a backseat in animation, the 1950s present a decade in which Mickey solidified himself as an international icon. In 1955 Disneyland first opened its gates, creating a paradise on earth where Mickey would reside. The overwhelming success of the resort led to the establishment of the afternoon television program The Mickey Mouse Club which became the most successful children’s show in history and launched the careers of teen stars such as Annette Funnicello.



1960s-Present: From Retirement to Reigning Supreme


With the advent of successful feature films such as Bambi and Sleeping Beauty, the 1960s and 1970s saw Mickey fade into the background of Disney, who had been out of work since his 1953 short The Simple Things. It was not until his appearance in the 1983 Christmas film Mickey’s Christmas Carol that Mickey finally burst out of seclusion and back onto the screen.

Despite his withdrawal from animation, Mickey’s empire continued to grow with theme parks being opened throughout the world during the 1970s, 80s and 90s, piggy-backing on the success of the first one in Anaheim, California.

Mickey has posed for photographs with every U.S. President, is familiar to 98% of children worldwide and merchandise with his famous face on it continues to make up almost half of The Walt Disney Company’s product profits. His face has steeped popular culture from appearing on a t-shirt in Sex and the City to appearing in PlayStation games and hosting hugely successful shows such as House of Mouse, on Disney’s own channel.  





Why Mickey?

So…what is it about this mouse that we love so much?  

Mickey Mouse has influenced our world for almost nine decades and his enterprise transcends class, race and age. Though he stepped back from the Disney empire for thirty years, it was his impact on the company that allowed it to grow into the kingdom it is today. While children love his endearing voice and spirited personality, adults alike enjoy Mickey Mouse for the memories that he holds for them and for the happiness and nostalgia that they experience when they watch him.

Everyone can relate to Mickey – he is timeless and has touched lives for many decades. For many, Mickey represents joy and contentment – he brings families together to watch films, he creates a magical place where we can visit and enjoy ourselves, he brings laughter and delight to small children and a smile to the face of everyone in his presence.

It is for these reasons that Mickey Mouse continues to be an American Icon, of which the world cannot get enough.



Did you enjoy this article? If so be sure to check out our range of Mickey Mouse products - including pieces at CRAZY clearance prices!


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