Now that I’ve found the information from my Peace Love Kindness Mickey Mouse teacher shirt. I apologize for the previous mistake. In the early 1920’s, Walt Disney had a rather successful cartoon character named Oswald the Rabbit. With his animating partner Ub Iwerks (coolest name ever!), Oswald was pretty popular. However, Disney learned his lesson about copyrighting when Charles Mintz from Universal took control of the character and stole almost all of his staff. He knew he needed a new character, and he rejected several before getting the idea of a mouse from a pet he had on his farm. Ub Iwerks also saw a drawing by Hugh Harman (another animator) of Walt surrounded by mice. From that, Iwerks & Walt Disney sketched up a mouse in early 1928 that would become Mickey. He looked quite a bit like Oswald, but obviously became much more famous. Originally they had him named “Mortimer Mouse,” but Lillian…Disney’s wife…suggested Mickey as a name instead while they were on a train. He debuted in “Plane Crazy” and then shot to stardom with “Steamboat Willie.” In conclusion, it was a combination of Walt Disney, Ub Iwerks and Lillian Disney (Walt’s wife). Walt was still the primary creator, though.
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As others have said, Mickey was created in 1928 by Walt and Ub Iwerks. The story about inventing Mickey on a train ride or based on a mouse in Walt’s Kansas City studio are pure PR puffery. Walt needed a new character after he lost the rights to Oswald the Rabbit (interestingly, those rights have now been reacquired by the Disney company). He had Iwerks and some of the others on his small staff draw up possibilities. He liked Iwerks mouse character, but wanted to name him Mortimer. His wife didn’t like the name (smart lady) and she convinced Walt to change it to the snappier “Mickey.” The first Mickey cartoon completed was “Plane Crazy,” but Walt shelved that one and one other, “Gallopin’ Gaucho,” when he couldn’t find a distributor. Both were intended as silent cartoons. Fortunately, Walt immediately grasped how popular sound would become and did find a distributor for his third Mickey cartoon “Steamboat Willie” (the first sound cartoon – the title being a parody of a Buster Keaton comedy, “Steamboat Bill”). “Steamboat Willie” was an immediate hit and a star was born! Walt quickly took the other two cartoons off the shelf, added soundtracks, and Mickey became one of the most popular movie stars of the early sound era.