Walt Disney arrived in California in the summer of 1923 with a lot of hopes but little else. He had made a cartoon in Kansas City about a little girl in a cartoon world, called Alice’s Wonderland, and he decided that he could use it as his “pilot” film to sell a series of these “Alice Comedies” to a distributor. Soon after arriving in California, he was successful. A distributor in New York, M. J. Winkler, contracted to distribute the “Alice Comedies” on October 16, 1923, and this date became the start of the Disney company. Originally known as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, with Walt Disney and his brother, Roy, as equal partners, the company soon changed its name, at Roy’s suggestion, to the Walt Disney Studio.
Walt Disney made his Alice Comedies for four years, but in 1927, he decided to move instead to an all-cartoon series. To star in this new series, he created a character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Within a year, Walt made 26 of these Oswald cartoons, but when he tried to get some additional money from his distributor for a second year of the cartoons, he found out that the distributor had gone behind his back and signed up almost all of his animators, hoping to make the Oswald cartoons in his own studio for less money without Walt Disney. On rereading his contract, Walt realized that he did not own the rights to Oswald-the distributor did. It was a painful lesson for the young cartoon producer to learn. From then on, he saw to it that he owned everything that he made.
The original Disney Studio had been in the back half of a real estate office on Kingswell Avenue in Hollywood, but soon Walt had enough money to move next door and rent a whole store for his studio. That small studio was sufficient for a couple of years, but the company eventually outgrew it and Walt had to look elsewhere. He found an ideal piece of property on Hyperion Avenue in Hollywood, built a studio, and in 1926 moved his staff to the new facility.
It was at the Hyperion Studio, after the loss of Oswald, that Walt had to come up with a new character, and that character was Mickey Mouse. With his chief animator, Ub Iwerks, Walt designed the famous mouse and gave him a personality that endeared him to all. Ub animated two Mickey Mouse cartoons, but Walt was unable to sell them because they were silent films, and sound was revolutionizing the movie industry. So, they made a third Mickey Mouse cartoon, this time with fully synchronized sound, and Steamboat Willieopened to rave reviews at the Colony Theater in New York November 18, 1928. A cartoon star, Mickey Mouse, was born. The new character was immediately popular, and a lengthy series of Mickey Mouse cartoons followed.