From the very beginning, Disney's founder Walter Elias Disney fostered the spirit of creativity, innovation and excellence that continues to underlie all of the company's success.
Walt arrived in California in the summer of 1923 with dreams and determination, but little else. He had made a short film in Kansas City about a little girl in a cartoon world, called Alice's Wonderland, and he planned to use it as his "pilot" film to sell a series of these Alice Comedies to a distributor. On October 16, 1923, a New York distributor, M. J. Winkler, contracted to release the Alice Comedies, and this date became the formal beginning of The Walt 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, which was initially housed in a succession of storefront buildings in Hollywood before becoming established on Hyperion Avenue.
Walt made his Alice Comedies for four years, constantly pushing the visual bounds – as well as the studio's finances – with innovative effects. In 1927, he decided to move to an all-cartoon series, and for its star he created a character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Within a year, Walt made 26 Oswald cartoons, but when he tried to get some additional money from Winkler 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. Since the distributor owned the rights to Oswald, there was nothing Walt could do. It was a painful lesson for the young cartoon producer. From then on, he saw to it that he owned everything that he made.
Walt now had to come up with a new character. With his chief animator, Ub Iwerks, Walt designed a mouse whom Walt first wanted to name Mortimer, but his wife Lilly preferred Mickey. And so a star was born. Ub animated two Mickey Mouse cartoons. But the first film with synchronized sound – The Jazz Singer – had premiered, and Walt decided that his studio should make the first sound cartoon. So, the studio poured all of its resources into a third Mickey Mouse cartoon before the first two were released, this one with fully synchronized sound. Steamboat Willie opened to rave reviews at the Colony Theater in New York November 18, 1928. Mickey Mouse was an immediate sensation around the world, and a series of Mickey Mouse cartoons followed.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Walt Disney soon produced another series -- the Silly Symphonies. Each of the films in this series featured different casts of characters, enabling the animators to experiment with stories that relied less on the gags and quick humor of the Mickey cartoons and more on mood, emotion, and musical themes. Eventually the Silly Symphonies turned into the training ground for all Disney artists, as they prepared for the advent of animated feature films. Flowers and Trees, a Silly Symphony and the first full-color cartoon, won the Academy Award for Best Cartoon for 1932, the first year that the Academy offered such a category. For the rest of that decade, a Disney cartoon won the Oscar every year. The most sensational one was released in 1933 -- Three Little Pigs. This was a breakthrough in character animation and provided something of an anthem for fighting the Great Depression – "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" The animated short was so popular, it sometimes was listed above the feature film on theater marquees.