Send in the Mouse
How American Politicians Used Walt Disney Productions to
Safeguard the American Home Front in WWII
A Senior Thesis
Presented to Fulfill Requirements for Graduation
In the Undergraduate History Program of the University of
By Jordan M Winters
University of Washington, Tacoma
Project Adviser: Dr. Elizabeth Sundermann, Department of European History
Despite the success of Disney’s first full length featured film Snow White in 1937
, the animators’ strike of the late 1930s and the war in Europe cutting of
international profits brought the Walt Disney Company was near bankruptcy by 1941.
Walt Disney was faced with the possibility of closing down his studio. However, the
entrance of the United States into WWII and the rising threat of the spread of Nazism
became the saving grace to the Walt Disney Studio. This essay explores the
collaborations between Disney, businessman and politician Nelson Rockefeller, and
President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1940s. Through the examination of Disney’s
time in South America, and his propaganda campaigns in the United States, correlations
can be draw between the work of Disney, and the fulfillment of American political
agendas of the Roosevelt administration. This essay will examine how political agendas
can be fulfilled through the use of cultural icons rather than holding a military or political
presence in both foreign and domestic affairs.
1Neal Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. (New York:
Vintage Books, 2006), 295.
Walt Disney is one of the most prominent American figures of the twentieth
century. His name and his productions are known in nearly every household in the
United States and across the world. His work has touched the lives of millions and nearly
fifty years after his death in 1966, his legacy and his name still live on. One of Disney’s
most beloved attributes was his childlike and charismatic personality.2
drawn to Disney and because of his genuine nature and because of this, he was able to
influence and change the American film and animation industry3
. Upon his death, countless authors and journalist began to explore the life and work of Disney, covering
his childhood, his productions and his death as a means to better understand the, “the man
behind the mouse” and to pay tribute to an American hero.
Yet, despite the heavy amount of literature centralized around one of the most
famous men in the animation industry, little work has been done in the study of the global
and political influence Disney had through his productions. While some know of the
WWII propaganda images and animations created in the Walt Disney Studios, fewer
know about Disney’s role as an ambassador of the United States in South America during
the early stages of the war as Franklin D. Roosevelt and his administration sought to
strengthen relationships and safeguard the Western Hemisphere from Nazi infiltration. 4
Similar to the isolation policy practiced by the United States in WWI, as of late
1940, the United States had yet to make a formal entrance in the war. Rather than taking
2 Theodore Thomas, Interview with John Canemaker. Walt and El Grupo. (Theodore
Thomas Productions. 2008).
3 Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. 631.
4 Walt and El Grupo. Directed by Theodore Thomas. (Theodore Thomas Productions,
2008, Walt Disney Pictures, 2008).
an aggressive military stance in foreign affairs, the administration used the talents and
creativity of Disney to fulfill the administration’s political agendas and policies in both
North and South America. This was accomplished through good will missions in
Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Disney was also used to influence the American public
through his pro-American, anti-Nazi propaganda. Through the examination of the history
of Disney from 1941 to 1953, specifically focused on political policies and agendas it is
clear that these agendas were met through a the use of Disney’s ability to influence and
speak to the general public on a global level.
In a world clouded by war, Disney did more than help the United States
government clarify America’s desired position on the war. Ironically, the war was also
the one thing that saved the Walt Disney Studios from bankruptcy and possible
extinction. Films such as Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros earned in $900,000
in a period of 11 weeks, allowing the studio’s debt to the Bank of America be reduced to
just under $1 million. 5 Walt Disney had made significant contributions to the American
success through his films alone with smaller contributions being with twelve hundred
designs for military insignia and the Treasury Department crediting Disney with more
than $50 million worth of saving bonds.6
Through his collaborations with the U.S.
government, Disney’s work aided in the solidification and upholding of the Good
Neighbor policy with South America as well as provide the monetary and physical
support the United States needed to remain steadfast in the war.
5 Gabler. Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination. 410.
6 Ibid. 412.
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