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Walt & Roy Disney: Champions of Free Enterprise


As the studio grew and business picked up, Walt and Roy found themselves able to achieve a lavish existence. However, they did not keep up with the lifestyles of the other moguls, largely because they invested as much of the company's profits as they could back into the business. Roy wrote his family on one occasion:

That's where we have fooled the Depression. Anything that we saved up was all put into our business. We have been doing our own gambling.

And at another time:

While we are not making money hand over fist as the general public thinks, still we are making some money. However it is all going back into our business. Just think, there are 130 or 135 people around here, living on Mickey Mouse. He's a pretty good mouse, don't you think, to keep up so many families?

The brothers knew that business success and reinvestment had to grate on their father. In fact they both joked that they could imagine their father railing against his boys joining "the capitalist class." Roy and Walt did well enough to purchase the last home Elias and Flora Disney ever lived in with capitalist class money.

In my research for this post, I came across a handful of blogs (which I won't dignify with a link) that decried the Disneys as "faux capitalists" because of their cooperation with the federal government during World War II. These writers take the circumstances surrounding the partnership out of context to fit their narrative.

The truth is, the company had little choice. Walt received a phone call from the studio manager on the afternoon of December 7, 1941, informing him that the U.S. Army had comandeered the studio complex. Shortly thereafter, the federal government approached Walt about designing insignia and creating propaganda pieces for the war effort. Walt and Roy, hurting for cash due to the strike of early 1941 and the drying up of foreign markets during the war, took advantage of the business the government sent their way. This strange-bedfellows partnership between Mickey Mouse and Uncle Sam helped the studio survive the lean war years.