Walt Disney has become a 20th century icon of Americana. Like many mythic American figures, he had a humble beginning, an ambitious entrepreneurial spirit, and a passion for modern technology. Born in Chicago, he enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute at age 14. Toward the end of World War I, when he was 16, Disney volunteered to drive ambulances in France. Upon his return home, he worked for a commercial art studio in Kansas City; there he teamed up with artist Ub Iwerks, who would become his lifelong business partner. Together, they moved to the Kansas City Film Ad Company to make animated commercials; this spawned their first brief business venture, Laugh-O-Grams, which sold satirical cartoons to a local theater. The success of these cartoons inspired Disney to create his own animation studio, where he independently produced such shorts as Puss in Boots (1922) and The Musicians of Bremen (1923). As the cartoons cost more to make than they earned, this first studio was not financially successful. In 1923, Disney (who, legend has it, had only 40 dollars to his name), his brother Roy, and Iwerks, went to Hollywood to begin producing the Alice in Cartoonland series of shorts that combined animation with live-action.
In 1927, Disney and Iwerks created their first popular character, Oswald Rabbit. Unfortunately, a bitter dispute with the cartoon's distributor resulted in Disney losing the rights to Oswald. The distributor also hired away most of Disney's staff and produced more Oswald cartoons without him. Disney's next character was the beloved Mickey Mouse, whom he starred in two silent shorts, Plane Crazy and Gallopin' Gaucho. For his third Mickey cartoon, Steamboat Willie (1928), Disney used sound. The success of Willie led Disney to create the "Silly Symphony" series, in which the characters' antics were synchronized to prerecorded music. As most animators did it the other way around, this was an innovation. The best known of this series was The Three Little Pigs (1933), which contained the hit song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf." During the 1930s, many of Disney's other beloved characters began to appear, including Minnie Mouse, Pluto (originally called Dippy Dawg), Goofy, and Donald Duck. And as they developed, so did his use of technology. Disney began using two-strip color in 1931; by the mid-'30s, he was using three-strip Technicolor, and he had exclusive use of the process for three years. At his growing studio -- which employed hundreds of people and included its own art school -- the revolutionary multiplane camera was developed, which allowed for more fluid, realistic animated movements with greater perspective and depth.