Merchandise Shoppers are so accustomed to seeing the wide variety of Disney merchandise on store shelves today that it is hard to imagine a time before you could buy a Mickey Mouse doll, book, toothbrush, or pair of bedroom slippers. Actually, it all started by chance back in 1929. Walt Disney was walking through a hotel lobby in New York, and a man came up to him asking if he could put Mickey Mouse on a children’s pencil tablet he was manufacturing. He offered $300, and as Walt needed the money, he agreed. That tablet began Disney licensing. Within a year, the first Mickey Mouse book and comic strip had been licensed, and other items soon followed.
In 1932, a major change in Disney licensing occurred with the appearance of Kay Kamen. Kamen, a born entrepreneur, convinced Walt that licensing could open up whole new vistas for the company. For the next 17 years, until he died in a plane crash, Kamen handled the licensing of Disney merchandise. Insisting on quality control, Kamen set the standard for character licensing that would later be copied by many others.
Shortly after the opening of Walt Disney World in 1971, Disney founded the Walt Disney Distributing Company, to actually produce merchandise, for sale primarily in the parks. Up until then, Disney had simply licensed the Disney characters to other manufacturers. The WDDC experiment was not successful, but a decade later, the Disney company would try again. This time, the manufacturing was being done for The Disney Store, a chain of outlets for Disney merchandise opening up in malls throughout the country. The Disney Store concept was tremendously successful, and other areas of the company, such as Walt Disney Attractions, the Walt Disney Classics Collection, and Disney Art Editions, were soon following suit and getting into the manufacturing business. While the company is ever wary of oversaturation of the market, that point has evidently not been reached and the various divisions of Disney Consumer Products continue to grow each year. Over eight decades after that first pencil tablet, Disney merchandising is still going strong.