Walt Disney founded his first professional film studio at a building designed by noted Kansas City architect, Nelle Peters, in May of 1922.  He incorporated his new company with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office.  He called it “Laugh-O-gram Films”.

The business operated on the second floor of the new building at 1127 East 31st Street just a block east of Troost and a couple of blocks west of the Paseo.  At one point, Walt employed 11 people and occupied five rooms on the west end of the second floor of the building.

Walt had met his friend, Ub Iwerks, while working for the Pesmen-Rubin Advertising Agency shortly after Walt returned from service with the Red Cross during World War I.   His brother, Roy, helped him find that job.  He and Ub were laid off after the Christmas holiday rush and they briefly operated their own small ad agency before both young men were hired by Arthur Vern Cauger to work at the Kansas City Slide Company, which moved to a new location and changed its name to the Kansas City Film Ad Company.  It was there that Walt and Ub first were exposed to the art and craft of making animated films.  After borrowing a camera from Mr. Cauger and working in his father’s garage in the evenings,

Walt was convinced he knew how to make animated cartoons on his own.

He borrowed money from businessmen in the community and opened his new enterprise in May of 1922.

The work Walt Disney did at the Laugh-O-gram Studio set the pattern for his entire amazing career in film production.  He made several one-reel animated cartoons there which were based loosely on classic children’s fairytales.  Walt made both animated and live–action films there, including some designed to be shown in conjunction with music published by the Jenkins Music Company in Kansas City, as well as films of himself and his crew cavorting in Swope Park.

Shortly after founding Laugh-O-gram Films, Walt decided he could no longer afford the expense of keeping his apartment.  He moved into the Laugh-O-gram building and it became both his home and his place of employment.

As he slept there at night, he heard mice come out looking for the crumbs from his employees’ lunches which were tossed into a wire wastebasket.  He began to put out food for these mice, luring them closer to him each night.

He said that one mouse was braver than the others

and eventually that mouse became tame and played on Walt’s drawing board while he worked.  The mouse stayed in a drawer of his desk and in a small cage Walt bought for him.

The last film Walt produced at Laugh-O-gram was titled “Alice’s Cartoonland”.  He recruited little four-year-old Virginia Davis, whom he had met while working for A.V. Cauger.  Virginia had appeared in advertisements produced by Cauger’s company and Walt thought she would be a good candidate to portray the title character in his new series of “Alice Comedies”.  Walt’s concept for these cartoons was that they would involve a little girl who would, through a variety of circumstances, go to Cartoonland and would interact as a live-action character with animated animals and an animated environment.  This concept was inspired by cartoons created by the Max and Dave Fleischer’s “Out of the Inkwell” series which had a cartoon character interacting with a live-action characters and settings.

Shortly after completing that first Alice cartoon, Walt went into bankruptcy.  He gave up on keeping his Kansas City studio operating after receiving no payment for the several cartoons he had produced under a contract he entered into with a church-based company in Tennessee.

Walt saved all the money he could put together to buy a first-class ticket to Los Angeles on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway.  He left Kansas City in the late summer of 1923, taking with him the one-reel Alice cartoon in a cardboard suitcase.  However, before he left Kansas City, he made a point of taking his mouse companion out into the countryside so he would not fall victim to the cats which lived in the restaurant on the first floor of the Laugh-O-gram building.

Five years later, that mouse inspired the creation of the world’s most famous fictional character, Mickey Mouse!

Birth of Walt Disney
Dec 5, 1901
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