Celebration buttons at Disneyland and Disney World are a time-honored tradition. Whether it is your first visit, birthday, wedding anniversary, or graduation, the Guest Relations desk offers them for free, upon request. Yet the practice of collecting Disney pins is not a modern phenomenon. The Disney Company has a long history of creating buttons and pins to highlight their latest movie releases, ride openings, and newest characters.
Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. Courtesy of DisneyFilmProject.com
The Disney Brothers Studios began in 1923 under the Universal Pictures brand with a contract with Margaret Winkler for a series of short silent films called the “Alice Comedies”. Disney’s first major character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, was created by Ub Iwerks in 1927 and debuted in the animated short Trolly Troubles. Disney and Iwerks went on to create 25 more shorts starring Oswald for Universal Pictures. Universal began offering Disney’s animators contracts with their studio and, having the upper hand, offered Disney a contract making a smaller salary. Disney refused and instantly signed Ub Iwerks before Universal could. Not realizing that Oswald was legally the property of Universal Pictures, Walt Disney was forced to find a new leading character. This led Disney and Iwerks back to the drawing board.
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Mickey Mouse was not an instant hit, but the third time was the charm. In his short, Steamboat Willie, it marked the first time an animated short included synchronized music and sound effects.
Courtesy of New York Times
Under the direction of Kay Kamen, Disney merchandise was licensed and marketed in a way that transformed advertising. According to Tom Tumbusch, publisher of Tomart’s Disneyana Update, “Kay Kamen invented the whole licensing industry. Not just for Disney, alone; others followed suit”. When Walt Disney’s first full-length animated film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was released, Kamen had merchandise ready.
During the Depression, General Foods paid $1 million dollars to create Disney themed cutouts for its cereal boxes. Throughout the 1930s, the Disney Company licensed the Mickey Mouse character to encourage the sales of dairy and bread products. By 1935, the number of Disney licensed products sold amounted to over $35,000,000 in sales, quickly outpacing the revenue from films. Kamen’s and Disney’s mass licensing of characters for consumer goods would be so successful that it would begin a marketing trend, as other advertisers followed suit.
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Disney buttons became a popular collectible and helped to advertise:
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The Disney brand is one of the most recognized and reputable companies in the world. Forbes Magazine consistently lists Disney amongst the top “Most Admired Companies.” Walt Disney won the hearts of children across the globe in the 1930s and continues today, with each generation connecting with its movies and characters. The love of Disney does not necessarily end with childhood and it will carry on for generations to come.
All buttons courtesy of the Busy Beaver Button Museum. Check out the entire collection of Disney buttons.
Brogan, S., 2009. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, 1927–1928. [online] Silentfilm.org. Available at: <https://silentfilm.org/oswald-the-lucky-rabbit-1927-1928/> [Accessed 30 April 2021].
D23. 2021. Kay Kamen - D23. [online] Available at: <https://d23.com/walt-disney-legend/kay-kamen/> [Accessed 1 May 2021].
Disneyfilmproject.com. 2021. Ub Iwerks and Carl Stalling. [online] Available at: <http://www.disneyfilmproject.com/2009/06/ub-iwerks-and-carl-stalling.ht…; [Accessed 1 May 2021].
K, P., 2021. Celebration Buttons At Walt Disney World - Disney Dining Information. [online] DisneyDining. Available at: <https://www.disneydining.com/disney-celebration-buttons. [Accessed 30 April 2021].
The Walt Disney Company. 2020. ‘Fortune’ Names Disney Among the “World’s Most Admired Companies” for 2020 - The Walt Disney Company. [online] Available at: <https://thewaltdisneycompany.com/fortune-names-disney-among-the-worlds-…; [Accessed 1 May 2021].