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December 2015

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U.S. Census Bureau History: Walt Disney

Walt Disney
Walter "Walt" Disney was born on December 5, 1901, and died
December 15, 1966. During his career as an animator and producer,
he created some of the most recognizable characters in the world
including Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald Duck.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Walter "Walt" Disney was born on December 5, 1901, in Chicago, IL. After serving as an ambulance driver during World War I, he worked in advertising before producing the Laugh-O-Gram animated films screened in the Kansas City, MO area. In 1923, Walt and brother Roy moved to Los Angeles, CA, where they co-founded Walt Disney Studios Link to a non-federal Web site.

Walt Disney Studios soon began releasing a series of increasingly successful animated short films, including its first Alice Comedies in 1924, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in 1927, and the premiere of the Mickey Mouse character in 1928. In December 1937, Disney released its first feature-length animated film—Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs—which became the most popular film of 1938. The studio followed Snow White's success with additional feature-length animated films, including Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942). Walt added live-action films in 1950, with the release of Treasure Island. The popularity of Disney's short- and feature-length films earned praise from audiences and critics alike, winning Walt a record 22 Academy Awards from 59 nominations.

Beginning in 1955, fans of Disney's characters and films could immerse themselves in the "Wonderful World of Disney" by visiting Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. A second park southwest of Orlando, FL, opened in 1971—five years after Walt Disney's death on December 15, 1966. Disneyland and Florida's Disney resorts are the most visited amusement parks in the world, attracting more than 134 million visitors in 2014.

Today, the animation studio Walt and Roy Disney founded in 1923 is known as the Walt Disney Company. With its headquarters in Burbank, CA, the company is one of the largest media and entertainment conglomerates in the world. Through acquisitions and mergers, the Disney family includes classics like Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh, as well as more contemporary characters from Pixar Animation Studios (Toy Story and Finding Nemo), the Muppets Studio, Marvel Entertainment (Iron Man and Spider-man), and Lucasfilm (Star Wars and Indiana Jones). With so many beloved characters, it is no wonder why the Disney brand is one of the most valuable and admired in the world.

You can learn more about Walt Disney and the entertainment empire he created using data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau and other government agencies. For example:

  • Five years before Disneyland opened in Anaheim, CA, the city's population was 14,556. In 1960, the population had grown to 104,184, an increase of more than 600 percent! In 2020, the Census Bureau estimated Anaheim's population was 346,824.
  • In 1970, Orlando, FL, was home to 99,006. The city's population has grown by more than 165 percent since Disney World opened in 1971. The Census Bureau recorded Orlando's population as 128,291 in 1980; 164,693 in 1990; 185,951 in 2000; and 238,300 in 2010. In 2020, the Census Bureau estimated Orlando's population at 307,573.
  • Walt Disney's 2013 animated motion picture Frozen is one of the highest grossing films of all time, earning approximately $1.15 billion. In that year, the Census Bureau's County Business Patterns found that 4,471 motion picture theaters (except drive-ins) employed 126,178, and 219 drive-in motion picture theaters employed 1,014. California and Texas led the nation in movie theater employment with 16,443 and 12,632, respectively.
  • The Walt Disney Company is a global entertainment company headquartered in Burbank, CA. The company earns revenue from a diverse group of industries, including motion picture and video production (NAICS 51211); amusement and theme parks (NAICS 71311); television broadcasting (NAICS 51512); doll, toy, and game manufacturing (NAICS 33993); record production (NAICS 51221); and hotels (except casino hotels) and motels (NAICS 72111).
  • Climate, education, and employment, as well as Disney's attractions, encourage people to migrate to California and Florida. In 2014, the American Community Survey found that Florida was most popular with residents reporting their residence in New York (58,753), Georgia (42,020), and Pennsylvania (28,841) one year earlier. California proved popular for residents from Texas (38,990), Arizona (35,200), and New York (34,201). Additionally, Florida added 163,811 and California added 311,952 residents who reported that they lived in a foreign country one year earlier.
  • The Walt Disney Company premieres the seventh installment of the Star Wars saga—Star Wars: The Force Awakens Link to a non-federal Web site—in December 2015. Movie-goers have been introduced to many new worlds and diverse populations since the series premiered in 1977, including: Tatooine (80,000-200,000, Humans, Jawas, and Tusken Raiders); Endor (30 million Ewoks, Yuzzum, etc.); and Mandalore (4 million Taung, Humans, etc.). The planet Coruscant Link to a non-federal Web site dwarfs Earth's population of approximately 7.3 billion. With hyperspace coordinates (0,0,0) placing it at the center of the galaxy and important trade routes, Coruscant has a population of more than 1 trillion sentient beings!

Fireworks over Disneyland's castle

Walt Disney designed and built Disneyland on a 160-acre site in Anaheim, CA. Sleeping Beauty's Castle (pictured)
has been the park's focal point since opening on July 17, 1955. Visitation to Disney's amusement parks grew
from approximately 1 million in 1955 to more than 134 million visitors Link to a non-federal Web site in 2014.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Flintstones
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Prime-Time Cartoons

William Hanna and Joseph Barbera produced the first animated program created for prime-time television—The Flintstones. When the show premiered in 1960, 45.7 million American households owned a television set.

More than 98 percent of U.S. households owned a television in 2011. Animated programming continues to be a popular viewing option. Debuting in December 1989, The Simpsons surpassed TV western Gunsmoke (1955–1975) to become the longest-running American scripted prime-time television series in 2009.

Photo courtesy of the Security and Exchange Commission.

John Quincy Adams
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This Month in Census History

In his Address to Congress Link to a non-federal Web site on December 2, 1828, President John Quincy Adams recommended that "Census Day" be earlier in the year than the first Monday in August.

In response, Congress authorized that the 1830 census be taken as of June 1, 1830. The nation's fifth census recorded a resident population of 12,860,702—a 33.5 percent increase from 1820.

Photo courtesy of the White House.

Did You Know?

When Walt Disney debuted Mickey Mouse in 1928's Steamboat Willie, 36 percent (43.2 million) of the U.S. population (120.5 million) was aged 18 years and younger.

In 2014, Walt Disney Pictures released Maleficent (based on 1959's Sleeping Beauty). In that year, people aged 18 years and younger comprised 23 percent (about 73.5 million) of the nation's 318.9 million population.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: May 23, 2022