Discover Disney's Kansas City Roots
Before he went on to create beloved childhood characters and inspire thrilling theme parks, Walt Disney spent his formative years in the Heart of America. For those who know where to search, the impact of the legendary cartoonist can be found in locations—and special exhibitions—across Kansas City.
Read on to see the roots of Disney magic that run through KC.
History on Display
A tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Walt Disney Company, the exhibition features 250 artifacts from the Walt Disney Archives, from art used in the development of Sleeping Beauty to Disneyland Park Employee Badge #1. (Of course, the badge belonged to Walt himself.) With ten immersive galleries that offer an up-close look at some of Disney’s most treasured creations across the decades, Disney100: The Exhibition provides opportunities for everyone to embrace a full century of magic. Tickets are on sale now.
Meeting Mickey Mouse
A young Walt Disney and his family moved to Kansas City in 1911, where he took weekend classes at the Kansas City Art Institute. After spending time in Chicago and France, where he drove an ambulance for the Red Cross, Disney moved back to KC in 1919 to work for Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Art Studio.
In 1921, Disney opened his first animation studio at 1127 E. 31st Street. While Laugh-O-gram Studio was only in operation for two years, it changed the course of cartooning forever: During his time living and working at his studio, Disney befriended a particularly tenacious mouse that was a frequent visitor to the building. Just a few years later, the unexpected companion would serve as Disney’s inspiration for Mickey Mouse.
Today, Thank You Walt Disney, Inc., is working to preserve and restore the Laugh-O-gram Studio building as a museum and digital media center.
Kansas City's Disney Connections
In 1900, one of the world’s first full-time amusement parks opened in Kansas City’s East Bottoms neighborhood. Known as Electric Park, the destination was a hit. After sustaining damage from a flood, Electric Park reopened in a new location in 1907, where it was just blocks from a young Walt Disney’s home. A frequent visitor, Disney would eventually incorporate many of Electric Park’s features into the plans of his design for Disneyland.
While no evidence remains of Electric Park’s original presence, a historical exhibition at J. Rieger & Co. offers a glimpse at the one-time adventure destination that existed just across the street from today’s distillery. The Kansas City Museum features further insights on the park’s presence over the decades.
Just as Kansas City left a lasting impression on Disney’s plans, Walt continued to contribute his cartooning talent for the benefit of KC institutions. UMKC, known at the time as the University of Kansas City, received an illustration of the university’s kangaroo mascot from Disney in 1938. His work continues to be used as a recognizable part of the UMKC brand.
Discover even more connections between the legendary animator and the Heart of America with a self-guided tour of Walt Disney’s Kansas City.
Roots in Nearby Marceline
Before moving to Kansas City with his family, Disney spent much of his childhood in Marceline, a small town less than two hours northeast of KC. Marceline’s Main Street inspired the now-famous Main Street, U.S.A, found at Disney World.
Walk the original Main Street at your leisure during an outing to Marceline—plus, trace Disney’s footsteps at historic sites around town and take a closer look at the animator’s early years at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum.