Cool Things - Mickey Mouse Undies
You were a lucky kid if your parents could afford these Mickey Mouse Undies during the Great Depression.
As Mickey Mouse's popularity soared during the early 1930s, so did the number of products emblazoned with his image. Although money was scarce for many families during this time of great economic turmoil, there were a number of happy children around the world who sported Mickey Mouse watches, Mickey Mouse slippers, and even Mickey Mouse underwear.
Kansas City Roots
Mickey Mouse Undies are just one product of the merchandising marvel known today as The Walt Disney Company, which had its roots in Kansas City. Walt Disney spent much of his youth in north-central Missouri and later Kansas City where, among other jobs, he made animated commercials for a local ad company. Disney taught himself animation techniques and produced cartoons for a local theater in his spare time, but was forced out of business when the theater went bankrupt. Walt then scraped together enough money to buy a train ticket to California, where he continued working on a series of cartoons conceived in Kansas City. In 1923 Walt and his brother Roy opened the Disney Brothers Studio in the back of a Los Angeles real-estate office, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Licensing the Mouse's Image
The first Disney cartoons featuring the character Mickey Mouse appeared in 1928, and the character quickly took the country by storm. Disney began licensing the use of Mickey's image fairly early; the first appearance may have been on a writing tablet in 1929. Other merchandise was authorized beginning in 1930, however, as the mouse's popularity grew around the world so did unauthorized products bearing its image. Disney was said to be disgusted by poor-quality products depicting inaccurate versions of his character. In 1932 he hired a Kansas City advertising man, Herman "Kay" Kamen, to oversee all licensing aspects for the Disney company, and the number of products with Mickey's likeness exploded. Everything from ice cream cones to doorstops bore the image of Mickey Mouse.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer described a imaginary child lavished with Mickey Mouse merchandise in 1935:
"In his room, bordered with M.M. wall paper and lighted with M.M. lamps, his M.M. alarm clock awakens him, providing his mother forgets! Jumping from his bed where his pajamas and the bedding are the M.M. brand, to a floor the rugs and linoleum upon which are M.M. sponsored, he puts on his M.M. moccasins and rushes to the bathroom to have the first chance at . . . no, you're wrong . . . at the soap made in the Disney manner, as are also his toothbrush, hair-brush and towels."
An Early Example
The Mickey Mouse Undies featured here are an early example of Disney merchandising. They date from the early 1930s, when Kamen had just taken over product licensing. Disney contracted with the Norwich Knitting Company of New York to produce children's clothing, including the one-piece garment pictured here. Made for a toddler, it is cotton with drop-seat drawers, and plain except for a printed image of Mickey on the right breast. A cloth label inside the neckline displays another view of the character.
The collections of the Kansas Museum of History include two more such garments (but lacking Mickey's picture on the exterior) as well as a cardboard box printed with the multiple views of the mouse and the text, "Manufactured under exclusive license from Walt Disney." None of these garments have ever been worn, and all are in pristine condition.
Entry: Cool Things - Mickey Mouse Undies
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: April 2006
Date Modified: July 2014
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.