1928: The Mouse That Made Millions

Caitlin Brown, guest writer

            Dear Diary, this is my yearly update. This year, 1928, has brought quite a few changes. Remember how hard I’ve worked to buy a new sewing machine and start my own business? Well this year it finally happened! Oh, and apparently I helped to start one of the most popular cartoons in America. But I’m getting ahead of myself, let me tell you how it all happened . . .

             I sat at my vanity blow drying my deep brunette hair and occasionally glancing at the sewing catalog lying on the bed, thinking about the beautiful new Singer sewing machine it advertised. The description even said that this model had a ‘built in light’ (Askaroff).

            While styling my hair, I thought back to my mother’s reaction a year ago, just after I had cut it in the “flapper style.” She was extremely taken aback, but had seen that style in every magazine she looked in and beauty shop she passed for about six or seven years. So she resigned herself to the fact that my long curly locks were now short and smooth and had given me the mild punishment of giving both of our dogs a bath.

            I finished styling my hair and slipped into one of my favorite dresses. I had made it myself. The sky blue fabric matched my eyes and it was extremely comfortable compared to the more formal dresses of my mother’s generation. Occasionally, my friends at school would ask me to create a dress for them as well, so I had a small reputation for fashion already.

            But of course, starting a business takes money. I had been babysitting for about a year now and most of the money would go toward buying the new sewing machine.

            It was spring break. And I was getting ready for another day of babysitting. I’d be taking care of three kids today. And at eighty cents each I would earn a whole two dollars and forty cents! My goal was to have seven dollars, the cost of the best machine in the store. Up till now, my mother’s old one had worked, but it had a habit of breaking halfway through a project, so it was not possible to get a new one fast enough. I already had about five dollars saved and with this final babysitting job my goal would finally be reached.

            I headed downstairs to help with breakfast, and to announce that I would buy the new sewing machine today! My parents congratulated me, then went back to their usual routines. Father disappeared behind his paper, which had the 1928 Olympics on the front page. And mother disappeared behind her gossip magazine. Naturally, Clara Bow was on the cover. She was extraordinarily popular at the theater. Clara was known as the “It Girl,” and magazines were always reporting something or other about her (Barber).

            Just about to make some toast, I was startled when father exclaimed “My goodness! America has won the 100 meter and 400 meter freestyle!” (Amsterdam 1928 Olympic). “Well, that’s the cat’s meow!” I replied. This year the Olympics were in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and my father was following the events closely.

            Later that morning, the kids were dropped off. Their names were Phillip, Antony, and Beverly. As I walked over to them, I noticed Philip was playing with a ball, and Beverly had a doll, nothing unusual, but Antony had a brand-new kind of toy, something called a yo-yo.

            One or two of the other kids I babysat played with them, too. After reading a small article about them in the newspaper, I found that they had been manufactured this year by a man named Pedro Flores. The idea of yo-yo’s wasn’t actually new. According to the article, “The first historical mention of the yo-yo . . . was from Greece in the year 500 B.C (Oliver).” It seemed like kids of different times and places loved the same toys. Who knew?

            I did my usual greeting of “Hi! My name is Rosemary, but you can call me Rosie. And we’re going to have lots of fun today.” They were all extremely well behaved and followed me down the street to Mr. and Mrs. Disney’s house.

            Mrs. Disney tells the best fairytales, and she used to babysit me when I was little. She helps when my parents are both gone for the day, and today my father was working and my mother decided to go grocery shopping.

            As I’ve come here often, I’m almost considered part of the family and I’ve heard a lot about one of the Disney’s grown children, by the name of Walt. He’s the creator of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the cute little cartoon bunny that all the kids I’ve babysat are enthralled with. But lately, I’ve heard from Mrs. Disney that the person who Walt worked for stole his creation and now Walt is out of ideas, and nearly out of money.

            I hadn’t liked it when I heard Walt gave Oswald’s copyright to his boss, Charles Mintz, but it was Mintz who funded Oswald so there wasn’t really any other option (Rottenberg). Walt now needed another cartoon character who could rival, and preferably beat Oswald in popularity and I’d been racking my brain hoping for an idea. Since I worked with children all the time I figured running designs of different animals past them would be a good way to find the next great cartoon. And it was a good idea, the only problem was that no other animal ever seemed as popular as Oswald.

            I prayed, hoping God would help me help the Disney family. I mean that’s what God does, right? The answer was definitely close, but we hadn’t found it yet, and time was running out for Walt Disney.

            As the children curled up to listen to Mrs. Disney and one of her fairytales, I decided to bring out the cookies my mother had made earlier. On my way to the kitchen, I saw a newspaper sticking out from under a cabinet. I picked it up to read the headline, “St. Francis Dam Collapse Leaves a Trail of Devastation!” A brand new dam, not even two years old, had collapsed. It devastated several California towns and left more than 450 people dead (Harrison). My church had helped with the Red Cross efforts, and we’d gotten many letters back from California filled with thanks.

            In a daze, my thoughts focused on the old news, I didn’t notice the little mouse skittering around the porch just outside. The sound of a large flower pot tipping over got my attention and I noticed the neighbor’s cat chasing the mouse.

            That’s when little Beverly came into the kitchen for a glass of milk and saw the chase. “Oh Miss Rosie, is the kitty going to hurt the mouse?” she asked. “The mouse will probably get away” I said, not wanting to upset her. “Please save it Miss Rosie, please” she pleaded. And how could I say no to that face?

            I opened the door to find that the cat had cornered the mouse, but couldn’t quite reach it under the chest of draws that Mr. Disney used to store some of his gardening paraphernalia. I shooed the cat away and, wary of getting bitten, grabbed a thick pair of gardening gloves so I could pick up the tiny creature.

            I gently held the creature out so Beverly could see that it was unharmed, and asked her if she wanted to name it. At which point Antony came out after and said that its name should be Mickey. Beverly immediately approved of the name and I had to agree. Then Phillip came out with a little cheese for Mickey, which the tiny mouse accepted gratefully. Mrs. Disney stood in the doorway with an amused expression on her face. I asked her if Mickey could be turned loose in the garden shed. The cat couldn’t reach him there and the shed had plenty of bird seed for food with old burlap bags to curl up in. She said it was a fine idea and Mickey seemed to enjoy it. Then we all went back inside and celebrated with milk and cookies. After that, the kids’ parents came to pick them up.

            Later that afternoon my parents drove me to the store where we bought the new sewing machine with twenty cents to spare. It was quite heavy, getting it up the stairs was a bit more exciting than any of us really wanted, but once father set up in my room I shooed everyone else out and started to go through my sketchbook full of designs. The machine was here, my ideas were ready, the Butterick dress patterns were laid out, now the only thing needed was fabric. Buying material was the last thing left on my list. But for that, I needed a little more money.

            That night, inspiration struck. Mickey Mouse would be the greatest idea ever. Absentmindedly sketching another dress idea in my sketchbook, and thinking about Walt’s problem, I asked God for ideas to help him. I was still smiling after rescuing the cute little Mickey and then I thought, “Hmm, what if . . .” And began drawing a little cartoon mouse. The first few designs were a little off, but the fourth design seemed to capture my basic idea. After saying a quick prayer of thanks, and hurrying to my desk, I got out an envelope to send him the sketch with my idea and inspiration.

. . .

            A year later, Mickey Mouse was huge. His first cartoon was Plane Crazy. In it, little Mickey had a rather rough time of mimicking Charles Lindbergh (Currell). Every theater played the cartoon, and anytime a new one came out, I always went to see it. Walt gave me 5% of the money he made from the cartoons, and soon there was enough money for me to make the dresses that were now in high demand. After selling one for an especially high price, I would occasionally create a custom dress for an old friend or relative and give it to them as a surprise. I had my business and Walt had Mickey Mouse. God truly does answer prayers!

            Well, that’s the story. Can you believe it? God really is awesome. This year, 1928, has probably been the best year ever! I hope these good times last, because as my grandmother likes to say, “For every high in life there always a low, and every low there always a high.” Both comfort and warning can be taken from that I suppose. Still, I wonder what your pages will be filled with for the year of 1929 . . .

            Signing off until next year Diary, Rosemary C. Hyde.

Works Cited

“Amsterdam 1928 Olympic Games.” britannica.com. January 24, 2014. Web. January 31, 2018.

Askaroff, Alex. “Singer Sewing Machines Through the Ages 1851-1951.” sewalot.com. n.d.                    Web. February 11, 2018.

Barber, Nicholas. “Clara Bow: The Original ‘It Girl.’” December 29, 2014. Web. February 12,                    2018.

Currell, Susan. American Culture in the 1920s. Edinburgh University Press Ltd., 2009. Print.

Harrison, Scott. “St. Francis Dam Collapse left a Trail of Death and Destruction.”                                       losangelestimes.com. March 19, 2016. Web. January 31, 2018.

Oliver, Valerie. “History of the Yo-Yo.” yoyomuseum.com. Web. February 12, 2018.

Rottenberg, Linda. “Walt Disney Created his Most Famous Character in a fit of Rage.”                         businessinsider.com. October 28, 2014. Web. February 12, 2018.


Amsterdam 1928.olympic.org. n.d.Web. January 31, 2018.

“Could Oswald the Lucky Rabbit Have Been Bigger Than Mickey?” BBC.com. December 3,                  2012. Web. January 31, 2018.

Doll, Jen. “How to Sound Like the Bee’s Knees: A Dictionary of 1920s Slang.” n.d. The Atlantic.               Web. January 18, 2018.

“History of Women’s Fashion 1920 to 1929.” glamourdaze.com. n.d. Web. February 1, 2018.

“Oregon and the Roaring Twenties.” sos.Oregon.gov. n.d. Web. January 20, 2018.

“St. Francis Dam.” damfailures.org. n.d. Web. January 31, 2018.

“The Unbelievable History of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.” ohmy.disney.com. n.d. Web. January       31, 2018.

Thomas, Pauline. “Flapper Fashion – 1920s Fashion History.” fashion-era.com. n.d. Web.                February 12, 2018.

Walt Disney Biography.biography.com. n.d. Web. January 20, 2018.