Before there was Mickey, Walt Disney had created a character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, for film producer Charles Mintz. Oswald’s ears were longer than Mickey’s (as befitting a rabbit), as was his nose, and his feet were black and shoeless, but his face bore an unmistakable resemblance to what would become the Walt Disney Company’s most iconic image. While Oswald was Disney’s creation, Universal legally owned him. When the Disney Brothers Studio asked for more money, Mintz refused and took ownership of the character.
Determined not to make the mistake of giving up the rights to one of his creations again, Walt and his animator, Ub Iwerks, went back to the drawing board, and transformed their rabbit into a mouse. Iwerks said he was inspired to create a mouse that had the spirit of Charlie Chaplin. They produced a few shorts that didn’t get much attention, but that changed when Steamboat Willie premièred in 1928. It was the first cartoon with synchronized sound, and became an instant hit. With Disney’s genius for marketing, Mickey became a national fad by the end of the year, with his own line of merchandise. Interestingly, Mickey didn’t actually speak until 1929’s The Karnival Kid. His first words were, “Hot dogs! Hot dogs!” and his voice was provided by Carl Stalling, the composer and arranger now known for his work on the legendary Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons. After that, Walt Disney himself provided Mickey’s voice, up until 1946 when he could no longer squeeze it into his schedule.
American Disney comics began in 1930 when Walt Disney himself began writing a Mickey Mouse daily comic strip for newspapers with Ub Iwerks handling the art. When control of this strip shifted to the talented Floyd Gottfredson later in the year, its ensuing popularity led to the growth of an entire comic strip department within the Walt Disney studio and the production of such additional strips as Silly Symphonies and Donald Duck (the latter, and initially the former, drawn by the great Al Taliaferro). Mickey Mouse is one of the most well-known characters around the globe, surpassing even Santa Claus. Walt Disney was given a special Oscar in 1932 for the creation of Mickey Mouse where the Press tagged Mickey as the “first non-human to win an Oscar.”