Welcome back to Through the Decades!
This time instead of moving forward, I’m taking a couple steps back and focusing again on Mickey Mouse, or to be specific, Mickey Mouse Merchandise. If you also want to look back at the original post, I will link that here, but I hope that this post will be able to expand on why our favourite mouse is such a revered and profitable icon.
And it all goes back to 1929 when Walt Disney kept being approached by a man who wanted to put Mickey Mouse on paper tablets that children would use in school. Waving $300 was enough for Walt to consider the transaction and agree to the fellow’s terms, especially since it was at a time when both Walt and Roy Disney were lacking in funds. As the story was only a word of mouth it seemed hard to believe until Roy verified the story before Walt’s death, hinting that it provided the brothers with an opportunity to profit from their characters’ popularity.
Well, it must have worked because, in the 1930s, Mickey Mouse merchandising exploded. For people living during the Great Depression, he was seen as a light, optimistic character full of hope and happiness for the future. The public flocked to select businesses to purchase Mickey phonographs, radios, watches, satchels, books, and toys, and by 1934, his merchandise was earning about $600,000 a year for Disney.
His popularity even helped to steady a rocky economy, protecting at least a couple of businesses from bankruptcy including the Ingersoll-Waterbury Clock Company (the producer and distributor of the watches) and Lionel Trains. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until 1935 that Mickey Mouse went global, as by then, Disney Enterprises (a facet of the company developed to prevent copyright) had branch offices in Chicago, Toronto, London, Paris, Copenhagen, Milan, Barcelona, Lisbon and Sydney.
And besides the 80 product licences in the US others included:
- 15 in Canda
- 15 in Australia
- 40 in England
Out of all the produced merchandise, 86 special items can be seen on display in the Walt Disney Family Museum. One particular item is a hood ornament featuring a winking Mickey Mouse with a thumbs up, having been acquired at an auction and that originally came from a private collector in England. It is engraved with “Reproduced with the consent of Walter E. Disney” and I know to me that certainly gives an interesting history to an item that would probably be commonplace and not as valuable.
The large case displaying all of this Disney history covers most of one wall and it provides an interesting glimpse at the range of memorabilia that was available during those first few earlier years of the studios. It’s not hard to see that Mickey Mouse memorabilia was so popular when it helps to comprise nearly five percent of the museum’s overall collection.
Moving forward to today, merchandising is a humongous and significant aspect of Disney’s profitability. Along with the growth of the company, it has changed with the times, and I know from the perspective of social history, I find it fascinating to look at the changing face of memorabilia, particularly in regards to Mickey Mouse and the evolution of his character design. However, whatever Disney produces there is always corresponding merchandise and it is a testament to those early years when character-driven memorabilia was considered a craze and a novelty – a novelty that is now commonplace in everyday life, even if certain lines and brands do go overboard when profiting from their popularity, i.e. Frozen.
That’s it from me.
What is your favourite piece of Disney merchandise?
Are there any items that you wish to own?
I know I would love to have a Mickey Mouse Watch and any books relating to the history of the company!
Thank you for joining me on this interesting and commercial aspect of Disney.
Have a brazzle dazzle day!