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quality posts: 17 Private Messages WootBot


It’s now 2014, a full decade since Jeopardy! made Ken Jennings mildly famous, but he’s still waging his tireless war against misinformation in our weekly “Debunker” column. Did you know that January 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day? Or that David Seville of “The Chipmunks” fame was born on January 27? By the end of this month, of course, the most famous rodent-related day on the calendar, Groundhog Day, will be just hours away. In honor of our small woodland friends, most of whom are probably hibernating right now, Ken will spend the month of January gnawing away at all the rodent-related facts you only thought you knew.

The Debunker: Was “Steamboat Willie” the First Mickey Mouse Cartoon?

Last week, we learned that the Disney company isn’t above throwing cute, chubby rodents off cliffs if dramatic necessity so requires. This is more than a little ironic, since the multibillion dollar entertainment goliath was originally built on rodents—specifically, on the success of one little mouse. No, not the fat one with no pants from Cinderella! Not The Rescuers either, good guess! The Great Mouse Detective? Try again. Nope, not “Roquefort” from The Aristocats. Damn, you know a lot of Disney mice. Respect.


I’m speaking of course, about Mickey Mouse. Eighty-six years after his creation, the plucky little guy is still one of the most recognizable icons in the world (behind only Santa Claus and Ronald McDonald, according to one reckoning). Mickey’s history is well-known: in 1928, Walt Disney’s studio was reeling from the loss of its flagship character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who had been taken by Disney’s distributor in a contract dispute. Mickey made his debut at New York City’s Broadway Theatre on November 18, 1928, in a groundbreaking sound cartoon called “Steamboat Willie.” It was a smash hit, and the nearly bankrupt studio was saved.

But most people don’t know that “Steamboat Willie” wasn’t the first Mickey cartoon: it was the third! The Disney studio had first used Mickey in two silent cartoons: the immortal “Plane Crazy” and “The Gallopin’ Gaucho.” “Plane Crazy” even had a test screening on May 15, 1928, but failed to find a distributor. When “Steamboat Willie” got a proper theatrical release, Mickey’s two (largely unseen) silent efforts were hurriedly pushed to market with new soundtracks. The Walt Disney Company’s historians still count “Steamboat Willie” as the official debut, but (“M-I-C”) see, that’s not really the case. (“K-E-Y”) Why? Because a theatrical audience had seen “Plane Crazy” fully six months earlier. M-O-U-S-E!

Quick Quiz: What burly cat is Mickey’s antagonist in “Steamboat Willie,” but is actually three years older than the mouse, having debuted in 1925’s Alice Solves the Puzzle?

Ken Jennings is the author of Because I Said So!, Brainiac, Ken Jennings's Trivia Almanac, and Maphead. He's also the proud owner of an underwhelming Bag o' Crap. Follow him at or on Twitter as @KenJennings.

Quality Posts


quality posts: 1109 Private Messages whatsamattaU

Woody Woodpecker?
No? Captain Pete?


quality posts: 2 Private Messages HomerTime

huh? I have never heard anyone claim that "Steamboat Willie" was the first Micky Mouse cartoon. Steamboat Willie's claim to fame was being the first cartoon with synchronized sound (previous cartoons had sound, but not synchronized to the action)


quality posts: 0 Private Messages SlappyMuggles

Pete's actual name was Pegleg Pete. And as for the countless claims that Steamboat Willie was Mickey's debut, I thank you for clearing this up. By the time Steamboat came along, Walt and his animator had cleaned up Mickey's appearance and made him easier to animate.

Ok, for a bonus question, what was the actual film that Steamboat Willie appeared with?


quality posts: 0 Private Messages dcfrate

Gee willikers this is some coincidence... I was, not more than an hour ago, reading the Wikipedia entry for Pete. Of course, in true wiki-style, I probably made it there via pages for archaic musical instruments, Malagasy foliage, Polish industrialists of the 1960s, or films available on RCA Selectavision CED...


quality posts: 1 Private Messages wellgolly
HomerTime wrote:huh? I have never heard anyone claim that "Steamboat Willie" was the first Micky Mouse cartoon.

Same here. Weird.

I always assumed that short was just used to represent the early years because Disney wasn't very fond of that ratlike design. Seems less iconic.

Edit: When you google "Mickey Mouse debut", you see a ton of Steamboat Willies. Is this just more of a myth in some circles?


quality posts: 0 Private Messages keepontruckinbs

From "The Walt Disney Company" history page.

November, 18 1928: Steamboat Willie is released at the Colony Theatre in New York -- this marks the release of the very first Mickey Mouse cartoon, and the first appearance by Minnie Mouse.

It doesn't call it the first appearance but rather the first Micky Cartoon.


quality posts: 8 Private Messages psac42

I believe the release of Steamboat Willie is used as the official annual "birthday" of Mickey Mouse.


quality posts: 9 Private Messages whoiskenjennings

Guest Blogger

Yeah, it's Disney that routinely refers to "Steamboat Willie" as the first Mickey Mouse cartoon. And since it WAS the first Mickey cartoon in wide theatrical release, it's not too weird a claim. A quick Google search shows it repeated by MoMA, AP, UPI, etc.

There's a reason why the first Itchy & Scratchy cartoon on The Simpsons was "Steamboat Itchy"!