walt disney archives

A Historical Legacy: The Beginning of the Walt Disney Archives

By Kimi Thompson and Ed Ovalle, Walt Disney Archives

Our story begins with none other than our founder, Disney Legend Dave Smith. A Southern California native and UCLA reference librarian, Dave began his research on Walt Disney Productions (known today as The Walt Disney Company) after expressing an interest in compiling an extensive bibliography on Walt Disney himself. He received project approval from the Company in 1967 and spent more than a year researching all Disney publications and productions.

walt disney archives
Founder of the Walt Disney Archives, Disney Legend Dave Smith.

The Disney organization was so impressed with Dave’s work, they asked for him to come to The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, to begin work preserving company history. His first day as an archival consultant for Walt Disney Productions was on October 20, 1969, setting him up in office 3H-1 just down the hallway from Walt’s offices in the original Animation Building.

walt disney archives
Office 3H-1 is the first door on the left in this photo from 1969.

After Walt Disney’s passing in 1966, his offices remained largely untouched for a few years. His brother and co-founder of the Company, Roy O. Disney, wanted to preserve Walt’s papers, awards, and memorabilia. On November 3, 1969, Dave made preparations to extensively photograph Walt’s offices for historical preservation purposes. These photos would later be instrumental in the restoration of Walt’s offices led by the Walt Disney Archives in 2015.

During his inventory and cataloging of Walt’s offices, Dave found many treasures that offered a glimpse into Walt’s life. In 2015, Dave recalled, “…I went and listed every chair and table and desk, but also every book on the bookcase, and every paperclip in the desk drawers and all that sort of thing.” A total of 2,269 items in 464 boxes, including furniture and ephemera belonging to Walt, was inventoried and stored.

In December 1969, Dave completed his consulting work, and turned in his proposal for the founding of the Walt Disney Archives shortly thereafter. He would return to the studio lot periodically for meetings and updates on the proposal over the next six months. Here we have the original proposal that Dave submitted, dated January 1, 1970.

On June 22, 1970, the Walt Disney Archives was established to collect, preserve, and make available for research the historical materials relating to Walt and the company he founded. Dave continued to work in office 3H-1 in the original Animation Building at The Walt Disney Studios lot, the same one he used while working as a consultant for Walt Disney Productions. His first project of inventorying and cataloging Walt Disney’s offices (Suite 3H) helped establish the Archives as a department and was the beginning of our now vast collection.

Check back next week to read more about the history of the Walt Disney Archives, and how we continue to preserve the history and heritage of The Walt Disney Company!