Mickey Mouse Morale

The Disney Studio and WWII

Walt Disney Studios (1938-11) by Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

On December 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into World War II. The ext day U.S. Army troops requisitioned half of Walt Disney’s Burbank, California, studio for their use. But space was not all that Disney would provide the troops. Artists, animators, and Walt Disney himself pitched in, enlisting Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and other beloved Disney characters in the war effort.

You Can't Breakfast Like a Bird and Work Like a Horse (1943) by Walt Disney StudiosSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Disney partnered with several government programs to educate citizens and encourage them to do their part on the home front. Disney characters appeared on posters, in books, and even on war bonds.

A Goofy lunch pulls your punchSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

The use of Disney’s characters in war-related work helped to strengthen the perception of the Disney brand as a symbol of the United States and its values.

A set of three posters aimed at educating civilians working war-related jobs on the importance of proper nutrition for optimum output was created by Disney for the California War Council's Food and Nutrition Committee. Advertisements show that other groups could purchase them for 5 cents each to hang in their own work spaces.

Walt Disney In Rio (1941) by Hart PrestonLIFE Photo Collection

Disney’s animation studio created educational shorts, training films, and patriotic entertainment. Most famously, Walt Disney was asked to go to South America as part of the Good Neighbor Program promoting cordial relations between North and South America during the war.

Walt Disney In Rio (1941) by Hart PrestonLIFE Photo Collection

Disney and his research team, dubbed "El Grupo," traveled and took in the sights both as ambassadors of goodwill, and as research for planned South American cartoons.

Collier's Magazine (1945) by Collier'sSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

The most famous results of that trip were the films "Saludos Amigos" and "The Three Caballeros," both starring Donald Duck. In 1943 The New York Times praised Donald as an “ambassador-at-large, a salesman of the American Way” for his representation of the United States both at home and abroad.

Girl Pilots/ Avenger Field (1943-07) by Peter StackpoleLIFE Photo Collection

Disney was most prolific during the war as a morale booster for the troops. Company artists created images of Disney characters for unit patches, eventually providing insignia to almost 1,300 units in the U.S. armed forces.

WWII Patch (1942/1945) by Womens Airforce Service PilotsSmithsonian's National Museum of American History

Fifinella was a female gremlin designed by Walt Disney based on Roald Dahl's book "The Gremlins." She was used as the official mascot and insignia of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS).

8Th Air Force Bomber Command (1942-09) by Margaret Bourke-WhiteLIFE Photo Collection

Many Disney characters ended up as nose art on military aircraft.

Walt Disney Studios (1960) by Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

The Studio’s work was not just instrumental in the United States’ war effort; using Disney characters to speak on behalf of the U.S. government also solidified the idea—building since Disney’s 1930s cartoon work—that the brand was associated with patriotism and a symbol for America writ large.

Credits: Story



Industrial Hygiene: Current News of Official Industrial Hygiene Activities, Volumes 3-5
January 1, 1943, Division of Industrial Hygiene, National Institute of Health, U.S. Public Health Service.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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